The head of the NHS told MPs yesterday that has no regrets about rejecting calls by leading academics for an independent review of the NHS's £12.7bn National IT scheme - even though the main software programme is four years behind schedule.
David Nicholson, chief executive of the NHS, said his priority under the National Programme for IT (NPfIT). had been to deliver software.
His arguments were similar to those put by National Air Traffic Service when its board fought pressure from MPs for an independent assessment of the software for the new Swanwick air traffic control centre in Hampshire, following a series of delays. Directors of NATS lost their battle after a campaign by Computer Weekly.
Conservative MP Richard Bacon asked Nicholson at a hearing of the Public Accounts Committee whether it would have been wise to have a genuinely independent review of the NHS IT programme. "Do you wish you had done that now?" asked Bacon.
Nicholson said, "There was no coherent argument for us to have it [an independent review] . The most important thing people said is: you should get on and get something done and delivered. That is exactly what we have been focusing our attention on."
Officials at the Department of Health had met the "all the people who have had criticisms of the programme," he said.
Twenty-three academics wrote an open letter to the Health Committee in 2006 calling an independent review of the NPfIT before writing a second open letter later that year.
In the case of the National Air Trafic System, the government ordered a review of the project - even though directors of NATS had argued that a review would distract managers from the more important task of delivering the software. The air traffic control system eventually went live, after NATS implemented the recommendations of an independent review by consultancy Arthur D Little.
Arthur D Little's report in 1999 on the NATS software project listed serious weaknesses in the way the scheme was being run.
Computer Weekly has campaigned for a similar review of the NPfIT. Nicholson told Bacon that he had read the Arthur D Little report. He said that there have already been reviews of various parts of the NPfIT- but Bacon said the programme needed to be reviewed as a whole.
"No," said Nicholson. " I do not believe that is sensible at all."
"The most important thing now is to deliver. The service [the NHS] is crying out for this product," he said.
He was referring to the Cerner "Millennium" software and the "Lorenzo" system which are due to be delivered to hospitals across England to support electronic health care records - a pivotal part of the NPfIT.
The National Audit Office last month found that the Care Records Service - which would give every patient in England an electronic health record - will take at least four years longer than originally planned.