NHS leader ‘asked to resign’ after voicing fears over lack of user input

The head of an organisation set up to help shape the NHS’s National Programme for IT (NPfIT) says he was asked to resign 10 days after writing a letter criticising the scheme.


The head of an organisation set up to help shape the NHS’s National Programme for IT (NPfIT) says he was asked to resign 10 days after writing a letter criticising the scheme. 

Peter Hutton, consultant anaesthetist at University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, resigned as chairman of the National Clinical Advisory Board, which was set by the Department of Health to help ensure that new national systems were what doctors wanted.

At the time, in early 2004, an NPfIT spokesman said he regretted Hutton’s resignation and thanked him for his “significant contributions to the pro¬gramme, especially the development of the NHS care record”.

Hutton, a former chairman of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and a past president of the Royal College of Anaesthetists, resigned after expressing concerns about what he saw as a lack of clinical input into the NPfIT.

He revealed the circumstances around his resignation at a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee last week into the NPfIT.

The hearing was told that core software for the Care Records Service – a system designed to provide an online medical record for 50 million patients in England – has been delayed for at least two years. Hutton told the committee, “I think the situation we are in was entirely predictable in the early part of 2004.” 

Hutton said he had written to Nigel Crisp, then chief executive of the NHS. His letter in March 2004 was written months after Whitehall had awarded £6.2bn worth of IT contracts as part of the NPfIT.

The letter said, “I remain concerned that the current arrangements within the programme are unsafe from a variety of angles and, in particular, that the constraints of the contracting process, with its absence of clinical input, may have resulted in the purchase of a product that will potentially not fulfil our goals.”

Hutton told the committee, “Within 10 days of writing that, I was asked to resign.”

During the committee hearing Hutton criticised aspects of the contracts. He said that officials did not seem sure what they wanted to buy and, “I do not think the people selling it knew what we needed.”

But officials replied that there had been strong clinical input into the work leading to the award of contracts. 

Computer Weekly Comment

Some seek infinite wisdom, others a big lottery win. All a committee of MPs wanted last week was straight answers to their questions on the NHS’s £12.4bn IT scheme. They would have found it easier to win the lottery and acquire infinite wisdom.

The lead civil servant before the Public Accounts Committee was Ian Carruthers, acting chief executive of the NHS.

Had he been asked to state clearly whether his tie was blue, nobody would have been surprised if his answer had been, “It is important to recognise that substantial progress has been made and targets have been exceeded and in some areas accelerated. We need to see this in a wider context where much has been achieved with over 10,000 installations already in place.”

Many statistics were given to MPs during their one-off hearing on the National Programme for IT. But they did not learn exactly why the core software is at least two years late.

When an IT programme is in trouble, truth can become a precious jewel buried so deep it can be extracted only with tireless determination. That is why we continue to campaign for an independent review of the scheme.

Not until last week did it emerge that a disastrous IT-related reform programme at the Child Support Agency had been the subject of 40 audit reviews, 70% of which had sounded alarm bells. None had been published, so there was no parliamentary pressure to act on them.

Ministers say there have been many independent reviews of the NHS scheme. But none has been published. We do not want to wait for years, perhaps until it is too late, to discover the real challenges and difficulties the NHS programme has faced.

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