The board of an NHS trust has learned of a "significant" risk of Fujitsu ending its £900m contract to supply and implement hospital systems across southern England as part of the National Programme for IT (NPfIT).
A withdrawal would add to delays in installations of NPfIT systems, deepen scepticism among doctors over whether the programme is feasible, and could indicate that the NPfIT is in deeper trouble than widely thought.
In 2006 Accenture withdrew as a local service provider, making provision for write-offs of about £230m.
Fujitsu and NHS Connecting for Health, which runs part of the NPfIT, and the Department of Health are discussing a contract "reset", which involves a renegotiation of large parts of the £896m deal signed in 2004. The contract is not due to finish until 2013.
Computer Weekly understands that there are differences of views over the cost of the requested work which amount to tens of millions of pounds.
If an agreement over price cannot be reached, Fujitsu has the choice of seeking to reduce the amount of work and risk it is being asked to take on, absorbing any extra costs or withdrawing.
The Royal United Hospital at Bath has warned of a series of risks to its planned go-live of NPfIT systems this spring. It has categorised as "significant" a risk of "further delays if Fujitsu ceases to be the local service provider for the South [of England]". The trust's staff are involved in the contract reset.
To mitigate risk, the trust would have to establish an effective working relationship with Fujitsu sub-contractor Cerner to "ensure satisfactory continuity in the event of Fujitsu's contract ending", said Richard Smale in a paper to his board, which he wrote as head of information services at Royal United Hospital.
Fujitsu is known to be a tough negotiator and, according to a National Audit Office report, it threatened to withdraw from the Libra contract to supply a national case management system for magistrates courts. In the end, the value of Fujitsu's Libra contract was increased from £146m to £232m and it was reduced in scope, with the government's agreement.
A spokeswoman for Fujitsu declined to comment on whether it may cease to be the South's local service provider, or that in the contract reset negotiations there are differences of views over the cost of the requested work of tens of millions of pounds.
The spokeswoman said, "We cannot comment on ongoing commercial negotiations."
NHS Connecting for Health made a similar comment.
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