Audit inquiry into 'high risk' NHS IT plan widens

Health service auditors at the Audit Commission have categorised projects within the NHS's national plan for IT (NPfIT) as "high...

Health service auditors at the Audit Commission have categorised projects within the NHS's national plan for IT (NPfIT) as "high risk" and are joining the National Audit Office in an investigation of the schemes.

The rare joint inquiry reflects the size of the national programme - one of the largest engineering projects in the world - and the risk that it could fail to deliver benefits to patients in line with the costs. The programme is expected to cost between £6.2bn and £30bn over its lifetime.

The NAO's inquiry will study the NPfIT while the Audit Commission will look at arrangements for local implementation. The Audit Commission checks the accounts of primary care trusts and of strategic health authorities, which provide funding to help implement the national programme.

In its annual letters to NHS organisations, the Audit Commission welcomed the NPfIT but categorised its successful delivery as high risk.

In October the Audit Commission's letter to North Hampshire Hospitals NHS Trust said that, for projects within the NPfIT, the "risks are high and robust management at all levels will be critical to ensure successful delivery".

The commission's letter to the Northumberland, Tyne and Wear Strategic Health Authority, also in October, said NPfIT procurement had been carried out centrally at some speed.

"This has resulted in many areas being deemed commercially sensitive, leading to restricted information and a general lack of communication nationally. This has not aided the awareness and perception of the overall programme, leaving many stakeholder organisations concerned at their inability to influence local concerns," it said.

The letter also said there was concern among stakeholder organisations about a lack of detail of the functionality of NPfIT systems and accelerated timeframes for their implementation.

The Thames Valley Strategic Health Authority was told the NPfIT "presents many risks, including issues around contracting, project and service management, financial flows, systems implementation, change management and benefits realisation".

A spokesman for the NPfIT said the programme was large and complex and it was natural that it should be the subject of the workÊof the National Audit OfficeÊand the Audit Commission.

"It makes sense that the work of these two bodies is co-ordinated and NPfIT is working co-operatively with them to ensure effective co-ordination of the audit programmes and we welcome their interest."

On the concerns highlighted by the Audit Commission in letters to trusts and Strategic Health Authorities, the spokesman said, "Action is in hand to deal with theÊspecific matters raised in the letters.

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