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NHS 24 IT system runs two years behind and £41m over budget

A two-year delay and 55% increase in costs for the IT system of NHS 24 compromises its chances of meeting financial targets, according to an Audit Scotland report

NHS 24’s plan for a replacement IT system is two years behind schedule and costs have spiralled to £41.6m over budget, an Audit Scotland report found. 

NHS 24 is a special Scottish health board which delivers online and telephone advice services, similar to NHS Choices and NHS 111 in England.

In 2011, it signed Capgemini for applications and BT for hardware and infrastructure as part of its Future Programme, which aimed to improve patient service, supported by modernising its phone and online technology.

The programme was originally due to cost £75.8m and generate savings of £10m over 10 years. However, after a two-year delay, costs have risen by 55% – racking up a total bill of £117.4m, according to the report from the Auditor General for Scotland.

“The delay in implementing the new system has led to additional costs and risks to NHS 24's ability to meet its financial targets in future years,” the report said.

The report goes on to critisise the management of the procurement and contract management, which suffered from lack of experience, skills and an “over-reliance on the supplier”.

NHS 24 chief executive Ian Crichton said the organisation fully acknowledges the findings of the report.

“It outlines a series of weaknesses dating back to 2011, relating to NHS 24's management of IT procurement, programme management and the governance of its technology renewal project,” he said.

"Delays in this major IT programme have led to a significant increase in costs. During the past 16 months an expert team, led by the Future Programme Director, has been working hard to bring the project back on track.”

Delays and patient safety concerns

The system was originally due to go live in June 2013, but was pushed back to October 2013 before being put on hold indefinitely. Audit Scotland's report said the system failed to “meet critical patient safety performance measures”.

This led to a dispute between Capgemini and NHS 24, where it became obvious there were flaws in the contract, “including the performance measures specified in the tender negotiation documents not appearing in the final contract agreement”.

Read more about NHS IT systems delays

The dispute nearly terminated the contract, but the two parties entered a mediation process before signing a new agreement in June 2015.

After several delays, the system is now on track to go live at the end of this month.

“It will not only enable NHS 24 to continue to deliver improved patient-centred services during the out-of-hours period, but will allow for the development of new ways of offering health and care to people across Scotland well into the future,” Crichton said. 

NHS 24 is working on a benefits realisation strategy to enable the recovery of the investment in the programme through additional efficiency savings and productivity gains.

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