The Department of Health was today (8 December) set to sign contracts to local and national service IT providers without knowing the costs of changing working practices.
The decision came despite a warning from the British Computer Society’s Health Informatics Committee, which said that the costs of critical business and other changes could exceed by four to eight times the £2.3bn allocated to the national programme for IT by the government.
It added that the national programme will “require unprecedented business process re-engineering in order to deliver”.
In an interview with Computer Weekly, Mark Outhwaite, lead for the national programme at the Modernisation Agency, part of the Department of Health, said, “We have not worked out how much money is needed or what needs doing until the ink is dry on the contracts. We will then decide the implementation plan.”
He said that one strategic health authority in each of the five “cluster” areas in England will be appointed next year to assess the change management implications. “The money we need to spend will be included in our spending bids,” said Outhwaite.
He added, “We do not want to beat them [clinicians] up. We want to give them the tools to review working practices and make changes themselves. We will show them best practice. We recognise there will be a need for additional funding.”
The need to plan for changes in work routines was underlined by a notice issued by NHS officials to IT and health staff last week. It said that within three months of awarding a contract to a local service provider for London, a detailed implementation plan would be generated.
“[The plan’s] development will require substantial input from trusts and care communities,” said the notice, which was dated 4 December. But IT staff said no financial or resourcing arrangements had been made.
Mike Davis, senior research analyst at Butler Group, said it was not best practice to enter into contracts for NHS IT systems without knowing the cost of changes to working practices, but that the political imperative to deliver visible IT-based NHS reforms would appeal to voters.
A spokesperson for the national programme said, “The cost of delivering training to NHS staff is part of the normal funding provision which is anticipated and planned for by the NHS, including the Modernisation Agency.
“The regional implementation directors in each of the five clusters are planning the change activities at local level and their teams are funded by the national programme.”