Delays may blight health IT plans

The £2.3bn NHS national IT programme could face the same delays, confusion and policy u-turns that have blighted the health...

The £2.3bn NHS national IT programme could face the same delays, confusion and policy u-turns that have blighted the health service's National Shared Service Initiative, politicians and doctors have warned.

Computer Weekly last week revealed that a £400m project to provide the NHS with a national payroll and human resources system was a year behind schedule after just 18 months.

Another key plank of the shared service initiative, the national financial services project, has stalled after the government reversed plans to make it mandatory across the health service.

"The government has been sleep-walking into another IT cost overrun with confused aims and slipping timetables," said Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman. "It now looks like the much-vaunted savings will be years away, if they happen at all.

"The plan for a centralised NHS HR system comes at a time when the government claims to be freeing hospitals from central diktat with the foundation hospitals proposals. The real danger is that the same problems could occur with the whole IT strategy. It is a huge risk."

GP Adrian Midgley was equally concerned. "The national payroll and HR project is an ambitious, if sensible, idea. It is a well-defined process. The code is already there," he said.

"It should be far easier to implement than the clinical systems in the national programme, and it is worrying that there should be problems."

A spokesman for NHS IT chief Richard Granger refused to comment on the shared service initiative but said the national IT programme was meeting key milestones.

l The NHS is wasting millions of pounds through inefficient supply chain management, according to e-commerce best practice group e.centre.

E.centre said the NHS and related social care organisations could make huge supply chain management savings by introducing barcoding.

Ray Hodgkinson, chairman of the British Healthcare Trades Association, which represents medical suppliers, said, "NHS warehouses are stocked to the ceiling with supplies they don't always need but have to keep because current mechanisms of stock control are so time-consuming and labour-intensive."

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