Doctors chief warns of potential NHS IT plan failure

The multibillion-pound NHS National Programme for IT risks failure if it does not engage the medical profession, the chairman of...

The multibillion-pound NHS National Programme for IT risks failure if it does not engage the medical profession, the chairman of the BMA's IT committee said today.

The programme should learn from past government IT project, where poor user consultation has contributed to failure, said Dr John Powell.

The NPfIT aims to allow all GPs in England to book their patients hospital appointments online. It will also create around 50 million electronic health records and allow the electronic transfer of prescriptions.

But Dr Powell said the programme had not done enough to involve the medical profession in the design and implementation of the programme.

"The programme should support healthcare workers in delivering a better service to their patients. We hope that improvements to IT systems will reduce the administrative burden on doctors so they can spend more time treating patients.

"This goal will only be realised if the national programme can provide systems that are at least as effective as those currently in use. Clinical staff must be consulted. There is no point investing billions of pounds in systems that do not have the confidence of users."

Dr Powell warned that the government risked repeating past IT disasters.

"The national programme must learn the lessons of other high profile public sector IT projects such as the passport office fiasco of 1999. Large-scale public IT projects do not have a good track record in the UK and so it is paramount that the NHS learns the lessons of history and engages with the frontline staff who will be using the new systems. So far the level of engagement and consultation with the medical profession has been wholly inadequate," he said.

In July the national programme created the Care Record Development Board to provide clinical and patient input into IT developments. It has also said it consulted hundreds of doctors over the development of the systems.

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