The Department of Health is seeking corrections to the official records of parliament after two ministers attributed to the National Audit Office positive statements on the NHS’s £12.4bn IT plan (NPfIT) that auditors did not make.
The corrections being sought by the department, which follow an investigation by Computer Weekly, are likely to add to scepticism within the IT industry about the extent to which ministerial statements on the progress of major technology projects can be relied upon.
The Department of Health has conceded to Computer Weekly that it gave unclear briefing notes to ministers in advance of a Commons debate on the NPfIT.
In the debate on 6 June 2007, two ministers, Caroline Flint and Ivan Lewis, attributed to public spending watchdog the National Audit Office positive statements on the NPfIT that auditors did not actually make.
The separate ministerial statements gave the impression that the National Audit Office had, in its report on the NPfIT, given unequivocal backing to the programme: to the way it was being managed, the excellence of contracts with suppliers, adherence to budgets, and to major savings having been achieved.
But the National Audit Office report in June 2006 contained none of the specific statements attributed to it by ministers, except one – that substantial progress had been made.
The report was largely positive about the NPfIT but said the success of the programme “continues to present significant challenges”.
MP Richard Bacon, a member of the Public Accounts Committee, said the briefing given to ministers carelessly represented facts in the National Audit Office report and suggested that the programme had been more successful than it actually was.
The main aim of the NPfIT is to give 50 million people in England a reliable electronic health record that can be accessed by authorised clinicians whenever they need it.
The Department of Health said it accepts that in its briefing notes to ministers about the National Audit Office report on the NPfIT there was “lack of clarity on what was direct quote and what was reported speech”.
The spokesman added, “We will be contacting Hansard [which keeps the official record of parliamentary proceedings] to check their transcription and set this straight.”
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