Lack of transparency limits value of Gateway reviews into NHS plan

The national programme for IT (NPfIT) in the NHS opposes Computer Weekly's call for an independent audit of the scheme.

The national programme for IT (NPfIT) in the NHS opposes Computer Weekly's call for an independent audit of the scheme.

A spokesman for the NPfIT said the national programme and its component projects have been subject to internal audit teams from the Department of Health and is being studied by the National Audit Office.

But internal audits do not always highlight basic weaknesses in a project. Between 1990 and 1998 there were 104 internal audits of a troubled IT project to deliver new air traffic control systems at the New En Route Centre (Nerc) in Hampshire. But an independent external audit by consultancy Arthur D Little in 1998 found that the internal reviews had "failed to identify the critical weaknesses in the Nerc systems project".

The NPfIT spokesman also pointed to the "considerable formal scrutiny by the Office of Government Commerce", which carries out Gateway reviews of high-risk projects.

Gateway reviews are a widely acclaimed means of telling whether a project has been derailed. But its "snapshot" reviews are never published, so there is no opportunity for project stakeholders, Parliament, taxpayers or the media to ask whether the recommendations have been carried out.

Without transparency and accountability, Gateway reviews are of no value in supporting public statements that a project is on course for success.

Occasionally, Gateway reviews are summarised by the NAO, but only if it reports on a project's history.

Even then, the NAO might not mention the results of Gateway reviews. In a report last month, which revealed delays in the implementation of e-booking - part of the NPfIT - the NAO made no reference to the result of Gateway reviews of the project by the Office of Government Commerce.

In the case of the Swanwick project, Arthur D Little's 86-page report was published in full by the House of Commons Transport committee in 1999.

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