NHS IT in poor health

In London last week health secretary Alan Milburn announced another £85m for NHS IT and Microsoft's Bill Gates assured...

In London last week health secretary Alan Milburn announced another £85m for NHS IT and Microsoft's Bill Gates assured politicians and health administrators that IT will result in more accurate data. In the best of all possible worlds, maybe - but not in the UK today.

That £85m looks set to help screw up the NHS waiting lists and patient throughput more quickly than before, not less, because two fundamental principles are being ignored. First, garbage is going in unchecked, so compounded garbage is creating spurious statistics. Second, IT is being introduced to a system where the basic processes are ill-thought-out, and which is under pressure to achieve inappropriate or unattainable targets.

There is also constant under-resourced, politically induced change. The NHS does not communicate well internally to create a common vision. According to a group of senior hospital doctors I met recently, no amount of computing will help until the fundamental problems have been ironed out. One practitioner told senior IT professionals last week that the best thing to reduce queues in his hospital would be for his computer systems to catch a virus and die, forcing administrators back to pen and ink.

When the £85m fails to produce results, IT managers will doubtless get the blame.

So much for progress.

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