Your shout: Views on NHS coverage and the Editor's reply

Readers' views on the latest news


Observations on NHS coverage

Regarding your stories, "Watchdog delays report into NHS IT programme," and "NHS staff reveal serious concerns over IT plan" (Computer Weekly, 9 August), we would like to make some observations.

The thrust of the story is that there is a dispute between the National Audit Office and NHS Connecting for Health over the content of the NAO study of the NHS National Programme for IT. But this theme has no grounding in fact and you produce no evidence or quotes to stand up the "hints of conflict".

Indeed, towards the end of the piece you undermine the entire thrust of the story by reporting that an NAO official says the delay is due pressure of the NAO's workload and the parliamentary recess. The dramatic headlines suggest more substance to the story than there is.

I can assure you there is no dispute with the NAO about the content of its report. There cannot be a dispute as no draft of the study has yet been shared with us. As you anticipate, with your plea in your leading article not to denigrate the British Medical Journal report, we do not consider the paper published in the British Medical Journal to be authoritative.

This survey of merely 23 people airs concerns which we are already dealing with - and does not represent a significant body of opinion within the NHS: it is a statistically minute sample of the NHS's total staff of over a million people. Furthermore there is no indication as to when this work was carried out.

This is a huge IT roll-out which has just begun, will take up to 10 years, and will involve significant changes to working practices. People do not easily adapt to change and we understand that and we are working hard to build the momentum of our communications and engagement in support of the necessary change management.

Staff have to know what to expect. We have to take on board what they say and give them a voice in the entire process. We will begin a major communications exercise to involve all NHS employees in the IT roll-out.

It is not helped by the kind of journalism you have recently carried which undermines the morale of the many thousands of NHS staff working hard to implement much needed new IT systems.

James Herbert
Director of communications
NHS Connecting for Health

Editor's comment:

ComputerWeekly is not often in the position where it has to enter into a forensic analysis of its journalism on these pages, but it always welcomes such an opportunity do so.

The story on the National Audit Office (Computer Weekly, 9 August), was about a delay in the publication of its report on the National Programme for IT [NPfIT] in the NHS. It was in the context of a previous NAO report on a large NHS IT-related programme, Read Codes, which was delayed by more than a year, in part, because of disagreements over the facts to be presented in the report.

Many in the NHS and beyond would like to know how well the world's largest civil IT-related programme is progressing and what lessons, positive and negative, need to be learned. This makes the NAO report particularly important. Protracted delays in its publication will be of widespread concern. That is why ComputerWeekly drew the attention of readers to the delay.

NHS Connecting for Health (CfH) says the thrust of the article was that there was a dispute between the National Audit Office and CfH.

The report did not mention CfH. Some of the most deep-rooted questions about the NPfIT involve ministers and senior officials in Whitehall, not CfH which was set up to implement the wishes of government.

In addition, the article was not about a dispute. It was about a delay in publishing the NAO report and a warning from history that Whitehall officials can delay these important reports.

Newspapers are frequently criticised for failing to give a balanced view of contentious matters. It is perplexing that CfH's letter criticises ComputerWeekly for highlighting that there could be an entirely innocent reason for the delay in publishing the NAO report, such as workload pressures.

CfH argues that there cannot be a dispute as "no draft of the study has yet been shared with us". There can be disagreements before a draft report is available. The NAO's Read Codes report was delayed, in part, because of contention over some of the factual content in protracted exchanges of information and questions between Whitehall officials and auditors.

On the survey published in the British Medical Journal, which was reported widely, by the BBC for example, CfH says it was not authoritative; but then goes on to point out that it "airs concerns which we are already dealing with". This would, on balance, give some credence to the survey's findings.

That said, ComputerWeekly accepts that the survey was of 23 people in four trusts only. Indeed, we reported this fact, but it was a rare example of independent research which focused on individuals who were involved in implementing national systems. It is not fair to compare these key individuals with the more than one million people who work in the health service, including cleaners, and calling the 23 a "statistically minute sample of the NHS's total staff".

The 23 were "all local senior management staff and clinicians involved in implementing the NPfIT" according to the survey's authors. Although the survey was carried out late last year it raised present-day themes such as a failure to provide adequate answers to questions about the programme.


Asset management is about proving value

Vaughan Smith's article "High cost of ignorance" about IT asset management (Computer Weekly, 9 August), was certainly on the right track. Understandably, Microsoft is trying to encourage companies to take control of their licensing assets, but this is just one piece of the IT jigsaw.

It's important to realise that asset management is much broader than simply having the right number of licenses for the right number of users.

Indeed effective asset management at both the software and hardware level is at the core of every IT management decision. The management of the costs and process can only accurately be evaluated with a strong asset management tool and process in place.

The continued growth in the adoption of ITIL best practises in the areas of change and configuration management are focusing IT staff's attention on this area but we still see organisations who have no idea how many computers they have let alone the number of software installations.

There is a challenge here, but also an opportunity. Microsoft's drive for Software Compliance together with the more structured approach to complete asset management under ITIL will allow IT managers to demonstrate to company boards not just that they are in charge of their software licensing costs but in charge of their business.

Daniel Power
LANDesl Software


Don't overlook Linux as a Windows alternative

I read with interest Clive Longbottom's opinion column about Linux as a viable alternative to Windows.

I fear he is taking an outdated and narrow-minded view of desktop use, certainly as far as larger IT departments are concerned. In my experience, most end-users need just three utilities: e-mail/a calendar scheduling tool; a web browser; and productivity tools, such as a word processor and spreadsheet. Evolution, Firefox and adequately fulfil these requirements

Longbottom cites three applications that are "not going to be ripped out" - Quickbooks, Sage and Maximiser - but what percentage of end-users actually use these tools? Is he saying no-one can use Linux because a small percentage do not want to migrate to an alternative application?

Linux is surely a viable alternative for most desktop users, offering potential cost savings and easier maintenance (in my experience at least). I can also vouch for its greater reliability as a server-side operating system.

Longbottom needs to look at the greater good, not just one small aspect of IT usage.

Paul Ashbrook
IT consultant, Bolton


Why digitise births, marriages and deaths?

The Office of National Statistics has announced it is importing services from India (via Siemens) "to digitise 250m records of births, marriages and deaths dating back as far as 1837" (Computer Weekly, 9 August).

Microfiche records will be sent to India for conversion. The database created will be used by other government departments such as the Passport Office to validate passport applications.

When the DVLC converted 35 million vehicle licensing records, the number of transcription errors was huge and access to the original documents was unreliable.

Undertaking the work in India will mean data errors that would be obvious to a UK resident could be overlooked. I wonder if the British public will be given the opportunity to validate the transcription results. If not, will any errors remain in the databases forever?

The fundamental question is why undertake this task? What is gained other than progressing closer to a police state?

Charles Smith


We must act now to revitalise UK IT sector

The IT industry seems to have finally recovered from its slump and is facing a turning point. With demand for IT graduates increasing at a faster rate than for any other occupation (ComputerWeekly, 2 August), it seems to be a golden opportunity for the UK to fully re-establish its IT sector as being first class.

The increase in demand for IT graduates highlights how graduate recruitment must come to the fore to ensure the next generation of innovators, developers and programmers remains in the UK. However, are there enough graduates to fill these jobs and are companies working closely enough with universities to supply graduates with the skills they need?

As a company we feel it is vital for IT companies to invest in courses to help educate the next generation and we continue to invest heavily in education as part of our business strategy.

The IT industry cannot continue to develop if future talent is lured away to other sectors or countries, especially with the increasing reliance upon IT and technology in all areas of business.

The potential for the UK IT industry to grow and innovate is here; it only remains for technology companies to step up to the challenge.

Alastair Sim


Flexible working needs serious consideration

I agreed wholeheartedly with your article on how flexible working must match both staff and business needs (Computer Weekly, 2 August). In this era of the Flexible Working Directive, where we have the technology to make any time, any place, anywhere working a reality, there's no reason why employees and employers can't mutually benefit from flexible working.

The danger lies in companies jumping on the bandwagon, rather than implementing a well thought out policy. This might explain why the CIPD survey you mentioned revealed that the proportion of employees using flexible working was far smaller than the proportion of employers prepared to offer it.

In research conducted by Inter-Tel in the UK among SMEs, the number of organisations practising flexible working increased by nearly a third over the past 12 months. However, only 2% of those surveyed have made flexible working an integral part of their HR policy. Alarmingly there are many businesses (23%) who claim that as staff don't know about flexible working there is no need to adopt a policy.

The benefits of flexible working are there for the taking. It's time organisations made flexible working more than an ill-thought-out 'me too' claim.

Duncan Miller


Back to basics for SMEbusiness continuity plans

Martin Byrne raises some interesting points in your feature on business continuity (Computer Weekly, 2 August). However, an assumption is made in the article that most companies have a business continuity plan. Worryingly, for SMEs in particular, this is unlikely.

Although the example of shows progress is being made in this area, many SMEs we deal with do not have a plan because they are unaware they need one. Nobody has prompted them to have one and it has not been considered, especially if they do not have IT staff. It is only now insurers are asking, that the topic is being raised.

Although Byrne provides important advice with key activities, most small businesses are not this structured. They need help and advice on a more basic level. Being able to securely access company data, whatever happens, is the key. Premises and stock are replaceable, but once data and knowledge are lost, the crown jewels are gone forever. So the first question an SME should ask itself is whether its data is backed up securely off site.

Ronnie Sandham

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