Independent assessment is needed to stop NPfIT becoming yet another IT disaster

Shadow health minister states Conservative position on national IT programme

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Shadow health minister states Conservative position on national IT programme




The Conservatives want an independent assessment of the national programme for IT in the NHS (NPfIT). It is clear that the programme will not deliver on time and we are conscious of the growing number of NPfIT dissenters.

There are particular concerns about user involvement, waning functionality and patient confidentiality. Despite a lengthy correspondence, ministers have failed to offer reassurance.

Predictably, the NPfIT has not welcomed our plans. "We do not think it is appropriate to call for an independent review when that is rightly the role of the National Audit Office, which reports to Parliament," said a spokesman.

The NAO is investigating NHS computing and has taken the highly unusual step of reporting on a project while still in its adolescence. It is right to do so. However, there are many precedents for an independent review of large IT projects. And they do not get any bigger than this one.

The Arthur D Little report on National Air Traffic Services at Swanwick is a case in point. The report, undertaken by an independent third party after competitive tender, looked at the history of the project and its status. It was not bound by the formulaic and constrained approach that is a part of the NAO's work.

We have been surprised by the reluctance to be open. Given the national programme's £30bn price tag and the general acceptance that the project opens up the prospect of real wins, we feel the government's attitude has been misguided.

When shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley made a routine request to meet with NPfIT director Richard Granger in the run-up to the general election, as convention permits, John Reid said no. When Computer Weekly tried to gain access to a press briefing, it was turned away.

The NPfIT is the biggest project of its sort. I sincerely hope it prospers. But there are worrying signs it will join a long line of IT disasters. A timely review may yet allow victory to be snatched from the jaws of disaster.

Andrew Murrison is the shadow health minister and a former GP

CV: Andrew Murrison

Andrew Murrison is one of several doctors in the House of Commons. He worked as a GP in Wiltshire before before becoming a member of Parliament.

Murrison served for 18 years as a medical officer in the Royal Navy, leaving in October 2000 as a surgeon commander. He was recalled in 2003 to serve in Iraq despite his Parliamentary opposition to the war. He was elected to Parliament in June 2001 and in November 2003 joined the Conservative front bench as a health spokesman.


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