NHS IT tsar steps in to rescue critical project

Richard Granger, the director general of NHS IT, has intervened to help rescue a delayed project which has become critical to the...

Richard Granger, the director general of NHS IT, has intervened to help rescue a delayed project which has become critical to the success of the technology-led modernisation of health services in London and Southern England.

The intervention came at the behest of Robert Naylor, chief executive of one of the UK’s largest NHS trusts, University College London Hospitals, who is heading a pathfinding implementation project for the national programme for IT (NPfIT) in the NHS.

Timely delivery of the project - an advanced patient administration system from US software supplier IDX - is critical to UCLH’s plans to open a £422m hospital in London in May.

The project has also become critical to the national programme because trusts across London and Southern England will receive the IDX Carecast product after its anglicisation by IDX and UCLH.

But the system’s implementation in UCLH has been delayed four times and, according to Naylor, is now more risky than originally planned. IDX’s resources have been stretched and Granger has intervened to concentrate the supplier’s focus on the project.

Under a contract signed between IDX and UCLH, the supplier was due to install its proven Lastword system in July or August last year - at least eight months before UCLH’s new hospital admits its first patients.

Now the full roll-out is due to start on 4 April, about six weeks before the 18-storey hospital in Euston Road opens its doors to patients. The delays have been caused in part by the trust’s decision to base its installation not

on Lastword but IDX’s newer Carecast product. April’s roll-out within UCLH will be the first major Carecast implementation in Europe.

In an interview with Computer Weekly, Naylor admitted that it was risky to roll out key parts of UCLH’s £85m project for electronic patient records only weeks before the disruption and uncertainties associated with moving to a new hospital.

A major caseworking project at the Immigration and Nationality Directorate failed in part because technical problems and delays ran into the upheaval of an enforced office move.

UCLH last month went live with Carecast at the smallest of its eight hospitals - the Hospital for Tropical Diseases - in what Naylor called a low-risk, pilot implementation. The deployment only involved about 20 users, but Naylor said it had been successful and "quite a lot has been learned in the last few days".

A UCLH board paper in February said the trust is now "positioned as a showcase for the potential benefits that the national programme can deliver across the NHS".

The UCLH project’s critical role in the national programme is ironic given that its contract with IDX falls outside the NPfIT. Naylor and UCLH signed their contract with IDX in September 2003, months before the NPfIT agreed separate deals for London and Southern England based on IDX’s product.

"Essentially we have moved from a being a separate project outside the national programme to being the pathfinder for the national programme," said Naylor.

A paper to UCLH’s board last year revealed that Granger was called on by Naylor to intervene after IDX’s resources became stretched. In 10 months last year IDX UK’s staff grew from fewer than 30 to more than 200 on the back of work for the national programme. Counting US staff, IDX has more than 400 people working on NHS projects.

"The impact of this growth did result in some lack of focus on key deliverables for UCLH. Escalation via Robert Naylor to Richard Granger has helped to relocate the UCLH project at the forefront of the national programme for IT in London and the South, and has resulted in a more concentrated effort from IDX," said the board paper.

Asked whether IDX could cope with the huge workloads, Robert Baker, managing director at IDX Systems UK, said, "Subsequent

to signing our contract with UCLH, we made the joint decision with UCLH to implement IDX Carecast, our newest and most sophisticated solution, which was then under development. In such a development project, some delays are to be expected in return for the benefits of a new solution.

"We are very pleased that UCLH is now live and functioning well on Carecast in pilot mode. We expect a successful go live for Carecast with the entire UCLH complex in April."

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