Chancellor tells Parliament NHS programme will not be a 'fiasco'

The chancellor Gordon Brown has defended the NHS national programme for IT after an MP asked him whether it was likely to be a...

The chancellor Gordon Brown has defended the NHS national programme for IT after an MP asked him whether it was likely to be a multibillion-pound fiasco.

During a debate in the House of Commons last week, MP Richard Bacon, who sits on the Public Accounts Committee, quoted to Brown an article in a doctors' magazine which said the national programme was "more likely to be a fiasco than the Dome".

Bacon then referred to the £6bn worth of contracts signed between the government and a handful of local and national service providers. He asked Brown if he "should not be rather worried that the Department of Health is about to squander £6bn?"

In reply, Brown said that before Bacon pronounces that the programme is not working, "he should look at the evidence of all the efforts that have been made to ensure that it does".

The national plan consists of four projects: a system for electronic medical records, a means of booking hospital appointments, a broadband infrastructure and e-prescriptions. The first systems were due to go live at the end of June, but firm evidence of this has not yet emerged.

Brown said a great deal of work has been done in setting up an extensive IT programme. "The NHS uses more IT than any organisation outside Nasa. It is therefore very important it is right.

"New people have been brought in and the whole system has to be modernised. It is important that electronic records can be properly developed and that nurses and GPs' surgeries can be in regular contact with hospitals.

He added, "It is in all our interests that the programme works."

After the debate, Bacon criticised Brown's assurances for being vague.

MPs' report on IT due     

The House of Commons work and pensions select committee will on Thursday publish the findings of its inquiry into public sector IT project failures. Writing exclusively for Computer Weekly, ahead of the report, MP Richard Bacon said public scrutiny was the key to future success. 

"Bad projects are like anaerobic bacteria. They cannot survive exposure or oxygen but thrive on secrecy and lack of candour," he wrote, supporting this publication's Shaking up Government IT campaign, which calls for the publication of Gateway reviews and for a legal framework for public sector project management. 

Whitehall must end secrecy >>

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