MPs will hold inquiry into £12bn NHS IT plan

Health MPs change direction after receiving new evidence

The House of Commons' Health Committee has agreed to hold an inquiry into key facets of the £12.4bn NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT) after some MPs expressed concerns that the scheme may be foundering.

The decision reverses a resolution taken by the parliamentary committee only weeks ago not to hold an inquiry, and vindicates a campaign led by leading academics, Computer Weekly and MPs.

The inquiry, the terms of reference for which will be announced shortly, is expected to involve the committee's members questioning ministers and officials at a series of hearings.

MPs on the committee can take in evidence from trust executives who are concerned about the lack of progress in the delivery of core patient systems for hospitals, and from GPs about whether centralised electronic health records will be secure.

The committee in October rejected an inquiry partly because some members believed the programme was too complicated to be investigated by non-expert MPs.

Its change of heart comes after Computer Weekly provided some committee members with new evidence - including a confidential briefing paper on the NPfIT from directors of informatics at a large NHS trust. The paper expressed profound concerns about some aspects of the NPfIT.

Computer Weekly has also learned that strong support for an inquiry came from Dr Richard Taylor, a former hospital consultant and the only independent MP in the House of Commons.

Taylor told Computer Weekly that he was originally not in favour of an inquiry, but changed his mind after an informal briefing by BT, one of the main suppliers to the NPfIT.

He said BT's briefing had been so unremittingly positive about the programme that he found it lacked credibility, and this made him wonder whether the programme was as successful as the supplier claimed.

It is seven months since 23 academics, supported by this magazine, wrote an open letter to the committee calling on its members to ask the government to commission an independent audit into the national programme.

Martyn Thomas, one of the 23 academics who wrote the open letter to the health committee, said, "Speaking on behalf of the 23, we welcome the news that the Health Committee intends to hold an inquiry early in the new year. We intend to submit evidence to the inquiry further supporting our call for a full, independent and open review of the NPfIT."

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