NHS-wide payroll system faces two-year overrun

Systems delays set worrying precedent for centrally decreed health IT.

Systems delays set worrying precedent for centrally decreed health IT.

A £400m project to provide the NHS with a state-of-the-art payroll and human resources system is a year behind schedule, just 18 months after the contract was signed in December 2001.

A consortium headed by McKesson Information Solutions won the contract to replace 29 different payroll and 38 HR systems with a fully integrated system based on off-the-shelf software.

The NHS appoints 275,000 staff a year, of whom 70% transfer between different parts of the service. The national electronic staff record system was expected to save £325m over 10 years through streamlined administration.

The initial plan was to roll out the staff record system to one test site in early 2002 and to 14 pilot sites within six months. NHS-wide deployment was set for 2004. The revised plan is to implement the system in three sites this autumn. No timetable has been set for deploying it to the remaining pilot sites, but the national roll-out is slated for 2006.

"We are reviewing the best way to implement the staff records programme," said a spokesman for National Shared Services Initiative (NSSI).

This project was originally expected to be run by a small number of shared services centres, administering the programme for all NHS organisations.

However, the Department of Health said it now wants to roll out the system on a trust-by-trust basis. "It involves installing the system in each trust and showing them how to operate it. It is a change management process," said a NSSI representative.

A second plank of the initiative, the Shared Financial Services project, is in trouble after the department decided not to make it mandatory owing to the introduction of foundation hospitals.

Despite extolling the massive saving the NSSI would give the NHS at its launch in 2001, the department said last week, "Shared services is an attractive concept but each project will be evaluated individually in terms of whether it is financially and operationally beneficial to each NHS trust."

Julie Armstrong, ex-NSSI finance director, said the department now had a contradictory policy, centrally mandating a national IT programme and some shared services but not others.

Health IT professionals and politicians are now raising concerns that the problems facing the shared services initiatives could have an impact on the development of the National Programme for IT in the health service.

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