BCS sticks to its guns over NHS IT report

Conflict with Whitehall over criticisms of National Programme

The British Computer Society has come into conflict with Whitehall officials over the publication of a report that includes some far-reaching criticisms of the NHS's £12.4bn National Programme for IT (NPfIT).

The BCS has for several years been a committed ally of NHS Connecting for Health, the government agency in charge of the NPfIT. But the two organisations have come into conflict over a report which summarises the views of health IT specialists on the strengths and weaknesses of the NPfIT.

The BCS report, published in December, is largely positive about the NPfIT, but it also says that the "value for money from services deployed is poor", that political pressure has caused health officials to "deny problems and to defend the indefensible", and that implementation plans have frequently ranged from the "optimistic to the unreal".

The report's author, Ian Herbert, who is vice-chairman of the BCS Health Informatics Forum, told last month's HC2007 Healthcare IT conference that Connecting for Health chief executive Richard Granger, after seeing a draft, did not want the report published.

"It was an interesting process developing that report. Richard Granger was not keen that we publish it, he was keen that we did something else rather more opaquely behind closed doors. We were not prepared to do that. We owed more to our members. So we produced the report," said Herbert.

A spokesman for Connecting for Health said, "It is a matter for the BCS and other bodies to publish any reports they commission. NHS Connecting for Health had offered to work with the BCS on a joint action plan but they chose not to accept that offer." The BCS revealed that it had made 17 changes to the draft report at the request of Connecting for Health, though it had not made all the requested alterations.

BCS chief executive David Clarke said the BCS Health Informatics Forum had always sought a close working relationship with Connecting for Health.

The BCS wanted to work with the agency on a joint action plan, but "not as an alternative to publishing our report, which we felt was balanced, fair and fully in support of the objectives of the programme", said Clarke.

Martyn Thomas, a fellow of the BCS and one of 23 academics who have called for an independent audit of the NPfIT, said the BCS had in the past acted as a critical friend to Connecting for Health.

"It may be that the BCS has taken the view that they have done all the good they can behind the scenes and cannot afford to compromise their integrity by backing away from being critical in public," he said.

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