Liberal Democrats want updates on cost and progress of NHS plan

Political pressure is mounting for rigorous independent oversight of the NHS' multibillion-pound national programme for IT...

Political pressure is mounting for rigorous independent oversight of the NHS' multibillion-pound national programme for IT (NPfIT).

The Liberal Democrats, like the Conservatives, said they want the NPfIT to succeed, but have raised fears it could waste large sums of money.

Paul Burstow, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said, "There are huge risks involved in this IT project. Ministers must learn the lessons from what has happened so far to ensure that front-line professionals and NHS patients are fully engaged with the development and implementation of the project.

"The risk must be that it will wind up not being fit for purpose, not being delivered on time and costing much more than expected. Like many government computer bungles in the past, this project could end up being a massive waste of taxpayers' money."

The Liberal Democrats want a strengthened role for the National Audit Office in overseeing the project. Although the NAO traditionally issues one-off reports on major IT projects and programmes, the Liberal Democrats want the NAO to publish updates regularly on the national programme.

Writing for Computer Weekly this week, Andrew Murrison MP, Conservative shadow health minister, said his party wants an independent audit of the NPfIT in addition to the work of the NAO.

"There are worrying signs that it is on course to join a long line of IT disasters. A timely review may yet allow victory to be snatched from the jaws of disaster," he said.

Murrison commended the NAO for investigating the programme while it was still in its adolescence. "However, there are many precedents for an independent review of large IT projects. And they do not get any bigger than this one," he said.

Computer Weekly last week called for an independent audit of the NPfIT to complement an investigation under way by the NAO. The case for an independent audit will feature in next week's issue.

Shadow health minister on NPfIT >>

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