An MP on the Commons' Health Committee has criticised a report by his colleagues on aspects of the National Programme for IT (NPfIT). He said the report of the Health Committee on the Electronic Patient Record - a central part of the NPFIT - was "very weak and a golden opportunity missed".
Conservative MP Mike Penning, who played a key role in persuading the committee to hold an inquiry into aspects of the NHS NPfIT, told Computer Weekly that he has been a strong supporter of the committee's work. He said that his colleagues on the committee had produced some strong reports that did not back off being critical of government policy.
But he said the committee's report, which was published on 12 September 2007, missed a golden opportunity to "produce something meaningful".
He said it became "bogged down in minutiae" and failed to call for an independent review of the programme. Twenty-three senior computer scientists, including several heads of computing at various universities, had written an open letter to the Health Committee calling a review of the programme.
Derek Wanless, a founding father of the NPfIT, also called for a review of the programme in a report on the NHS published on 11 September 2007. He said there was an "apparent reluctance to audit and evaluate the [NPfIT] programme".
The Health Committee has taken the government's position that an independent review is unnecessary. Its report said, "Officials and suppliers both denied the need for an independent, external review. Richard Granger [Director General of NHS IT ] argued that the programme had already been heavily scrutinised, for example by the National Audit Office, and that ministers had therefore concluded that a further review was not necessary.
Guy Hains - representing CSC, one of the main suppliers to the NPfIT - pointed out that suppliers were subject to regular reviews, both technical and commercial, and stated that elements of the programme were in effect reviewed every two months.
The committee concluded that it understood why some witnesses had called for an independent review of the NPfIT but said, "We do not agree that a comprehensive review is the best way forward."
It said that "many of the questions raised by the supporters of a review would be addressed if Connecting for Health [which runs part of the NPfIT] provided the additional information and independent evaluation [of specific aspects of the NPfIT] which we recommend in this report".
Penning acknowledged that the report contained some potent and constructive criticisms of the programme.
The report was particularly critical of a lack of information - five years since the programme was launched - on the security of systems and the detailed electronic health record. The report said,
"Serious concerns were expressed regarding the lack of information both about how security systems will work and about the outcomes of security testing. We agree with these concerns and recommend that Connecting for Health ensure that BT's planned security systems for its national applications are subject to independent evaluation and that the outcomes of this are made public.
"There is a perplexing lack of clarity about exactly what NPfIT will now deliver." The report also said that there was a explanatory vacuum surrounding detailed care records systems.
Three Conservative MPs on the Health Committee, including Penning, refused to sign the report.