Gordon Brown’s ministerial shuffle has seen ardent supporters of the NHS IT programme moved on – which could indicate a lower profile for the project in the lead up to a possible early general election.
Lord Hunt, the health minister most closely associated with the launch of the NHS's National Programme for IT (NPfIT) in 2002, has left the Department of Health as part of Brown's shuffling of ministerial posts.
Another vocal and passionate ministerial spokesperson on the NPfIT, Caroline Flint, has also been moved.
Lord Hunt has been a particularly strong supporter of the NPfIT. He told the annual HC2007 healthcare IT conference at Harrogate in March 2007 that he “was responsible for NPfIT when it was established.”
At the conference, he made these claims for the NPfIT:
- "The technology has already been delivered - the remaining hurdle is to utilise these systems fully at local level."
- "The key challenges and risks to delivery are now not about the technology to support NPfIT but about attitudes and behaviours which need to be the focus of attention as we move forward."
But important parts of the NPfIT have run into serious trouble. Staff at two NHS trusts, Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre and Milton Keynes General Hospital, said a national system they installed is not fit for purpose. The two trusts implemented a basic “Release 0” version of the programme’s Millennium Cerner Care Records Service.
The Care Records Service is part of the government’s plan to give 50 million people in England an electronic health record. The plan is to roll out the Cerner software to NHS trusts across London and the South of England.
In April Lord Hunt dismissed a damning report on the NPfIT by the House of Commons' Public Accounts Committee - before the government had given its formal response to the committee's findings. Lord Hunt said at the time, "This Public Accounts Committee Report is based on a NAO (National Audit Office) report that is now a year out of date."
In Gordon Brown's shuffling of ministers, Lord Hunt has joined the Ministry of Justice. Patricia Hewitt, who was Secretary of State for Health, and was another ardent supporter of the NPfIT, has been replaced by Alan Johnson.
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