Flawed GP data extraction system 'misspent public money'

A government IT system that collects data from GP practices across England was signed off despite being demonstrably flawed from day one and 'not fit for purpose', MPs heard on Monday.

The DH admitted at a House of Commons public accounts committee hearing that public money had been ‘misspent’ on the General Practice Extraction Service (GPES) IT system, which came in four times over budget and cost the taxpayer £60m.

Representatives from the DH, the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) – which runs GPES after inheriting it from the NHS Information Centre in 2013 – and Atos, the IT company that designed part of the system, were grilled by MPs at the inquiry.

The inquiry was held after a report from the National Audit Office (NAO) released in July found that the GPES IT system was ‘flawed, delayed and over budget’.

The GPES was designed to allow NHS organisations to extract data from all GP practice computer systems in England.

GP funding

It was intended to help automate and streamline practice payments from the QOF and enhanced services and allow for clinical data to be extracted for use in analysis and research.

Practices faced months of manual data entry because the system did not work properly initially, and of the eight key health bodies intended to receive data, only NHS England and Public Health England (PHE) have done so according to HSCIC.

MPs on the panel said it was ‘quite clear that the project was a failure’ and concerns should have been raised much earlier.

The programme was originally slated to cost £14m, but costs ballooned to over £40m at the time of the NAO report. The panel warned that costs were now closer to £60m – more than four times over budget.

Will Cavendish, director general of innovation, growth and technology at the DH, admitted that public money had been ‘misspent’ on the project during the inquiry.

GP IT system

Officials said the NHS Information Centre had ‘made a mistake’ in agreeing a contract for the IT system that meant more money had to be ploughed in to fix problems and to make changes from the original specification.

MPs heard that GPES was signed off and pronounced a success by the NHS Information Centre at the end of March 2013, just days before it was taken over by the HSCIC and declared to be ‘fundamentally flawed’.

Public accounts committee chairwoman Meg Hillier, MP, said the project was ‘a fiasco’. ‘Failed government IT projects have long been an expensive cliché and, sadly for the taxpayer and service user, this is no exception,' she said. 'Customers who could benefit, such as research and clinical audit organisations, are waiting around for the system to deliver what they need to improve our health service.’

Adrian Gregory, CEO of Atos UK and Ireland, told the hearing that the tool it developed as part of GPES  which was originally priced £8m but racked up to £11.4m  had passed component testing at the time, and he did not accept suggestions that Atos had been aware of ‘flaws’ in the system.

He said: ‘It passed at a component level. You have a choice to wait for the end product which costs time and money or you test at a component level. We would have liked to do end-to-end testing, but it wasn’t available at the time.’

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