Richard Granger, director general of NHS IT, has written to some of the UK's top computer science academics inviting them to a briefing on the £6.2bn NHS national programme for IT (NPfIT).
The move follows the publication of an open letter from the academics to the House of Commons Health Select Committee requesting an independent technical audit of the programme (Computer Weekly, 11 April).
Ewart Carson, professor of system science at City University's Centre for Health Informatics, and one of the signatories to the open letter, welcomed the invitation. But he said it did not meet the demand for an independent audit of the world's largest civil IT programme.
"Richard Granger has set aside two hours on Thursday [20 April] to talk to us. Four or six of us will accept as a matter of courtesy. He said there will be time for a question and answer session. We welcome the invitation, but this is not instead of an independent audit.
"Given the scale of this programme, it is only reasonable that it is properly looked into. We can gain much from the programme, but it is behind and the timescales are moving back year by year."
Last week Channel 4 News followed up Computer Weekly's publication of the academics' letter to the Health Committee.
Commenting on the open letter on the programme, health minister Caroline Flint said the NPfIT was already subject to internal review and that it was delivering results.
She played down the academics' concerns. "They can come in to be briefed and we are happy to listen to their concerns, but I do not believe they are justified."
Carson described Flint's statements as a "typical ministerial response". In particular, he criticised her for avoiding questions on when the National Audit Office could publish its report into the NPfIT.
The National Audit Office announced its investigation in August 2004, and said it would publish the report in summer 2005. It is now understood that the report will not be available until the summer of 2006.
The report cannot be published until the Department of Health has agreed its factual contents with the audit office. Flint refused to say when this process would be complete.
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