Richard Granger, the embattled Director General of the NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT) is defending the projects’ progress, despite a planned review of it by his boss David Nicholson, the new chief executive of the National Health Service.
“Despite what you might read, we have had successes,” Granger insisted earlier this month. “How many people have a copy of their medical records? How many believe that the next person in the chain of care knows pretty much what the previous person knew? The presumption is that it is somehow magically passed on to the next person. In fact, there was a complete lack of assured information – which is what I’ve spent the past four joy filled years trying to fix.”
Nicholson, who was appointed chief executive in July, has now ordered a review both of the scope of the programme and the way it operates – a move likely to lead to further delays. This coincides with the news that The House of Commons’ Health Committee will hold an inquiry into the NPfIT after MPs expressed concerns about the troubled project’s lack of progress in the delivery of core patient systems for hospitals.
John Pugh Liberal Democrat MP for Southport and spokesman for health, welcomed the inquiry. “The NPfIT is getting into very serious trouble and is in danger of becoming a huge white elephant. The intervention can help the government and the people managing the project to migrate to a more sustainable course of action than the one they are pursuing at the moment.”
The inquiry’s terms of reference have not been announced yet but Pugh suggests that the delayed NHS spine will be a focus. “The key area they should be looking at is the way in which the spine is integrating – or not – with the patient administrations systems in hospitals and the upheavals introducing connecting for health is having in different hospitals,” he said, adding: “It also need to take a very sharp look on the cost benefit analysis. Will the project ultimately deliver health benefits? There is a lot you can do with IT and there are lots of ways you can spend money. The question is how proportional are the benefits stemming from the project compared to the cost it is finally going to come in at.”
The Health Committee had previously rejected calls for an inquiry in October, believing that MPs lacked the IT knowledge to investigate the complicated programme.
While Pugh concedes that “the Health select committee may not have the level of IT expertise to know what are the implications are in terms of software and hardware, but I do think they can take a fairly clear view of it as a procurement exercise. If it’s working as intended. What everybody wants is not to waste a horrific amount of public money on a project that is not doing what’s promised. And there are very sharp lessons to be learnt from the experience so far.
Granger has previously denied the need for an inquiry into the programme. “We have been subject to a number of instruments of scrutiny. We had 40 Parliamentary questions in one month. There’s nothing wrong with Parliamentary questions but do we really need another inquiry?,” he said.