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NHS 24 admits ‘systematic failure’ of £117m IT project

NHS 24 has admitted that a “systematic failure around project governance” was the cause of its major IT transformation project disaster

NHS 24’s bosses have admitted the project to replace its IT system was dogged by an inadequate business case, bad project management and spiralling costs, which are likely to rise still further.

Ahead of giving evidence in the 20 January session of the Scottish Public Audit Committee, NHS 24 submitted a document on the project, in which the health board “apologises unreservedly for its failure” to deliver the programme.

As part of its Future Programme, which aimed to improve patient service, supported by modernised phone and online technology, NHS 24 went live with a new IT system from Capgemini in early November last year, two years behind schedule.

But after the system crashed on go-live and experiencing several performance issues, NHS 24 decided to shut it down after 10 days and revert to the old system “on the grounds of patient safety”.

The implementation of the system had already been heavily critisised in an Audit Scotland report, published in October, which found that poor procurement management, lack of skills and “over-reliance on the supplier” had inflated project costs by 55%, and racked up a total bill of £117.4m.

NHS 24 has now set a new go-live date of summer 2016, by which time the system will be three years behind schedule, so costs could increase even further.

“Current planning assumptions are that costs could increase by as much as £7.6m. The main reason for the increase relates to additional double running costs and the costs associated with preparing for the relaunch in 2016,” the NHS 24 document said.

Capgemini delivered the applications for the new IT system, while BT supplied the hardware and infrastructure. Since its inception, the project has been troubled. Originally due to go live in June 2013, the implementation was pushed back to October of that year before being put on hold indefinitely as it failed to “meet critical patient safety performance measures.

This led to a dispute between Capgemini and NHS 24 that nearly terminated the deal and made it obvious there were flaws in the contract.

NHS 24 admitted that the “original business case was inadequate, the programme governance ineffective, commercial management weak, too much reliance was put on suppliers' promises, and the organisation had insufficient understanding of call centre system implementation to successfully launch”.

It said the organisation understood it had underestimated the risk of “developing an ambitious next-generation IT system, but also put some blame on its supplier.   

“The failure of Capgemini to meet its commitment to supply a working solution in 2013 manifested these weaknesses,” the document said.

“Not only have the different programme boards and committees failed to identify and manage the risks; the various audits and reviews have also proved ineffective in recovering the programme.”

NHS 24 is currently looking for staff with skills and expertise to support the system implementation.  

Timeline of NHS 24's Future Programme saga

  • January 2009: Project starts, go-live date set for June 2013
  • October 2011: NHS 24 awards contract to Capgemini and BT
  • April 2012: Staff realise sections are missing from the signed contract
  • Spring 2013: Concerns are raised over the clinical component of Capgemini software, go-live is delayed until October
  • October 2013: NHS 24 decides not to go live on grounds of patient safety, and issues legal notices. Capgemini requests completion payment
  • January 2014: NHS 24 CEO John Turner is alerted to the contract flaws discovered previously
  • Spring 2014: After problems continue, NHS 24 takes legal action and makes plans to cancel Capgemini contract
  • Summer/autumn 2014: Decision is made to continue with the project and go-live is set for October 2015
  • January 2015: Review into contractual obligations of the parties begins
  • May 2015: Mediation process between NHS 24 and Capgemini begins
  • June 2015: NHS 24 and Capgemini sign new agreement and NHS 24 withdraws legal action
  • October 2015: System crashes on go-live
  • November 2015: NHS 24 decides to revert to the old system
  • Summer 2016: New go-live of the system planned

Source: Audit General for Scotland.

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