Sir John Pattison was last year appointed senior responsible owner (SRO) of the national programme for IT in the NHS. The Cabinet Office, in a guide issued in 2000 after a succession of government IT disasters, said that "overall responsibility for delivering the business objectives and benefits of any programme or project must be vested in a single, responsible and visible individual, the SRO."
The SRO should oversee programmes from the development of the business case to formally closing a project, if necessary briefing ministers on serious problems that arise, said the Cabinet Office guidelines.
Pattison was involved in the national programme at the outset and was among the civil servants and ministers who attended a meeting in Downing Street in February 2002, which established the terms of the national programme.
But Pattison confirmed to Computer Weekly last week that he has already begun to reduce his commitments in the role of SRO in anticipation of his retirement next year. He will be focusing on his job at the Department of Health as director of R&D.
"With the restructuring of the department I am pulling away from IT and becoming director of research and development again," said Pattison in an impromptu interview last week.
His retirement appears to go against a recommendation in the guidelines which said that "the SRO should remain in place throughout, or change only when a distinct phase of benefit delivery has been completed."
Pattison's involvement in the programme pre-dates the appointment of Richard Granger, the director general of IT in the NHS, by about six months.
Granger has led the procurement process to appoint national and local service providers. The SRO's role includes responsibility for business change. The Department of Health's Modernisation Agency is managing attempts to change the working practices of nurses and doctors whose co-operation will be crucial to the success of the national programme's systems.
The SRO in all cases "must be the business sponsor of the change that is driving the IT development. This applies to individual projects and also groups of projects making up a programme," said the guidelines which are also published by the Treasury's Office of Government Commerce.
Pattison said that ministers and Nigel Crisp, the chief executive of the NHS, were last week in the process of choosing his successor.
A spokeswoman from the Department of Health declined to comment on Pattison's retirement in the context of the Cabinet Office's guidelines.
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Job change plans
Sir John Pattison was involved in the national programme for NHS IT at the outset. But he plans to retire from the crucial role of senior responsible owner of the programme.
He told Computer Weekly last week, "With the restructuring of the department I am pulling away from IT and becoming director of research and development again."