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Public Accounts Committee brands GP data upload system a failure

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) raises concerns over lack of testing of GP Extraction Service, the IT system used in the NHS patient database

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has called the GP Extraction Service (GPES) a disaster after years of delays, overspend and failure to test the system properly.

During a PAC hearing earlier this week, chair Meg Hillier said the project had been a "fiasco" after delays and costs spiralling out of control.

The system was designed as an NHS-wide service, including the extraction of data for the controversial project to create a central database of anonymous patient records for research and analysis purposes.

Work on the GPES programme, which was set up by the Department of Health and the NHS Information Centre (NHS IC) to collect data from GP clinical systems from 8000 GP practices in England, was originally due to start in  2010. The system is now run by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), which inherited the project from the NHS IC in 2013.

Earlier this year, the National Audit Office (NAO) published a report which showed that costs of the project had risen from £14m to £40m and said the system was unlikely to have a long-term future. It went live in 2014, but has so far only served one customer – NHS England – according to the NAO report.

“The situation at the moment is that we are late. We have looked very hard at the costs, but we are satisfied that we can make the programme work to its original specification and, more crucially, because there are now more requirements of the system,” HSCIC chief executive Andy Williams told the PAC earlier this week.

IT service provider Atos was awarded an £8m contract in 2011 to support GPES. In 2013, the system was signed off as working. “Shortly afterwards, it was discovered that it wasn’t,” Williams said.

"The question tthe team had to answer then was whether they should try to rectify what they had to make it work and meet its original requirements – or throw everything out and start again."

He said that he did not “with hindsight, believe the testing regime was sufficiently robust” and that the team were effectively “marking their own homework”.

However, he added that the HSCIC works differently and that “no programme enters live service without being separately tested by a completely different part of the organisation".

The PAC also critisised the management behind the implementation of the system, which has had ten programme directors in five years.

"How do you get to the point where you can have 10 in five years without someone saying, 'There is something systemically wrong here'? How does one get to that point?” Richard Bacon MP asked.

Williams said he agreed that the governance of the programme was “not fit for purpose”.

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