Audit could be key to success

A forward-looking independent review of the national programme for IT in the NHS would be the most important step in the life of...

A forward-looking independent review of the national programme for IT in the NHS would be the most important step in the life of the programme. It would be a conduit for bringing to the surface information that is needed by stakeholders, IT professionals, suppliers and Parliament.

It may validate all that the NPfIT and the government is doing and, in the process, calm the fears of those NHS practitioners whose views of the scheme may be coloured by the lack of consultation.

Alternatively, it could find the project is in danger of becoming a runaway juggernaut and recommend a pause for a fundamental rethink, descoping, or a major revision in timetables and contracts.

It may highlight any structural weaknesses in the programme and recommend corrective action. For example, it could assess whether there is a lack of an open management culture. This structural defect was identified in an independent audit as a factor in delays and large increases in costs on a project to introduce new air traffic control systems at Swanwick in Hampshire.

Whatever the audit's findings, it would be a powerful tool to validate what has happened and correct any systemic and reporting weaknesses. In short, it will say whether the NPfIT will work.

The cost of an audit would be tiny in relation to the benefit it brings. We hope the national programme will come to accept the importance of the audit to the scheme's future. Independent auditors made recommendations which have helped to make the troubled Swanwick project a success.

Nobody can dispute that the national programme has the potential to make a real difference to the quality of care and the safety of patients. That is why we want success to be assured, not wished for.

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