Report criticises government IT agency as ‘poor value for money'

The national programme for IT has slowed down IT development in the NHS and offers ‘poor value for money', a report says.

Its key weakness is a failure to implement IT to deliver a set business plan, the report by the British Computer Society’s Health Informatics Forum says.

The report calls for an overhaul of the programme’s objectives, switching its focus to local implementations in the short-term.

The IT programme has delivered little ‘considering the scale of what was planned’, the report says.

Although it has been successful in limiting payments for non-delivery, ‘having underspent because of not delivering is hardly a success and the central costs incurred by Connecting for Health are such that, so far, the value for money from services deployed is poor’, it adds.

A local focus would boost the IT programme’s impact, the report says: ‘Providing specialty, service-specific and niche systems will encourage clinical involvement and give quicker benefits.’

The ‘rip and replace’ policy adopted by the IT programme over GP IT systems undermined IT improvements in primary care, the report says.

It says system suppliers were planning ‘concerted action’ to boost compatibility between systems used by GPs and to improve links with social care.

‘The local service providers’ initial “rip and replace” policy led to the undermining of this,’ the report says.

‘The primary care community felt obliged to divert its effort into fighting to protect the systems it already had.’

Hospital IT development has also been slowed down. The report says new IT systems for individual departments have been put on hold because the programme has insisted on implementing hospital-wide systems that in some cases ‘have yet to be produced’.

Change should be evolutionary, ‘building on what presently works and encouraging convergence to standards over time’, it adds.

‘Arguably the major weakness of NHS Connecting for Health is that it currently lacks a business context: we have rapid policy implementation without the associated informatics planning.’

In a foreword to the document, the forum’s chairman Dr Glyn Hayes, a retired GP, says: ‘Until very recently the sponsors of NHS Connecting for Health have seen IT as a fix for the challenges faced by the NHS. This is a common mistake: IT enables change, is sometimes a catalyst for change, but is not an end in itself.

‘This misconception has been a prime cause of large-scale IT project failure since computers first became commonplace.’

A spokesman for Connecting for Health, which is responsible for the national programme for IT, said it would ‘consider the report fully’.

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