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GP Extraction Service ‘another Whitehall failure’, says PAC

Public Accounts Committee slams GP Extraction Service and its supplier, Atos, in a new report on the long-delayed project

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has branded the GP Extraction Service (GPES) a failure and said Whitehall is not learning from its past mistakes.

Work on the GPES programme, set up by the Department of Health and the now-defunct NHS Information Centre (NHS IC) to collect data from the clinical systems of 8,000 GP practices in England, was originally due to start in 2010.

The data was intended to be used for a variety of functions, such as quality management and the controversial project to create a central database of anonymous patient records for research and analysis purposes.

The system is now run by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), which inherited it from the NHS IC in 2013.

A National Audit Office report published last year showed that costs had risen from £14m to £40m during the planning and procurement stage and the full service is still not being provided.

According to the PAC report, published over the new year, only two of the eight organisations identified as users of the service have received any data from GPES.

PAC chair Meg Hillier said the government must begin tackling such IT failures properly, with the GPES joining a list of projects that faced PAC criticism last year.

“Once again we see a failure in a government IT project at huge cost to the taxpayer,” said Hillier. “It is incredible that basic mistakes on contract and project management are still being made, from inadequate testing to woeful governance.

“We keep calling for lessons to be learned and keep receiving reassurances from senior accounting officers that they are. Yet the same issues occur time after time. It’s simply not good enough.

“The government needs to get its house in order, properly address these very serious failings and ensure public money is not squandered in such an irresponsible manner.”

The PAC report said the Department of Health did not ensure common governance was in place and it repeated common mistakes from previous projects, such as “adopting the wrong contracting approach, and failure to ensure continuity of key staff”.

The DoH also failed to test the system properly before accepting it, the PAC said, referring to the fact that the system was signed off as working in 2013, despite the fact that it was not.

IT supplier Atos, which supplied the main part of the system, was also criticised. The PAC said Atos “did not show an appropriate duty of care to the taxpayer” and “appears to have acted solely with its own short-term best interests in mind”.

The PAC also asked the Cabinet Office to review Atos’s relationships as a government supplier and ensure that the GPES failures “are disseminated widely to reinforce the steps that need to be taken to avoid such mistakes being repeated again”.

An Atos spokesperson said it had welcomed the opportunity ti give evidence at the PAC hearing and that "we made clear that given we were one of eight suppliers and not acting as the System Integrator we did not have visibility of the end-to-end programme in order to advise the NHS IC on the overall programme." 

“On the part of the system we built, we collaborated fully with NHS IC adding additional functionality as requested and where issues were found we fixed them quickly at our own cost.”  

The report also highlighted the fact that no one in the DoH or the HSCIC has “been held responsible or disciplined for the failure of the programme or the loss of taxpayers’ funds”.

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