The National Programme for Information Technology, the NHS's flagship project to produce a national networked information infrastructure for patient care, could become the government's biggest IT disaster yet, experts have said.
Martyn Thomas, who represents the UK Computing Research Committee (UK CRC), a policy committee for computing research in the UK that consists of computer science professors at 23 leading universities and an expert witness in IT-disaster court cases, described the national programme as "a train wreck in slow motion".
Speaking in response to the news, Thomas said UK CRC had warned the parliamentary select committee on health several years ago that the NPfIT "was exhibiting signs of failure" and called for an independent review to identify ongoing risks and ways to manage them.
Thomas said Richard Granger, then head of the NPfIT, and his successor, David Nicholson, had accepted the comments, but had been overruled by ministers.
MP Richard Bacon, who sits on parliament's Public Accounts Committee, said Fujitsu's refusal to sign a renegotiated contract was an opportunity to give back to local trusts the right to buy what they liked.
"The original approach of handing over monopolies to a handful of local service providers was never going to work and has been shown not to work," he said.
Bacon warned against handing Fujitsu's contract over to the other two main suppliers on the project, CSC and BT. It was a way to screw things up completely, he said. "This whole thing was built on the detailed patient record system. We have not seen much yet, but we are already four years late and £4bn in."
Bacon and Thomas both noted that the successes claimed for the programme, such as the ability to send digital X-rays over IT networks, were not part of the original NPfIT, and in fact preceded it. Thomas said the X-ray system was part of the argument for the programme made to the then prime minister, Tony Blair.
The British Medical Association has supported the aims of the national programme because it says it could improve patient safety. Chaand Nagpaul, IT lead on the BMA's GP committee, said, "The BMA is concerned that the termination of contract between Fujitsu and Connecting for Health will cause further delays to the NHS IT programme. We hope that the situation can be resolved without further delays or cost to the taxpayer."
The National Outsourcing Association (NOA) said, "The Fujitsu retraction follows on from Accenture bowing out last year. This leaves the success of the NHS project on a knife edge, with literally billions of pounds worth of taxpayers' money being wasted already with more likely to follow it down the drain."