The Conservative Party has promised to organise its own review of the NHS’s £12.4bn National Programme for IT (NPfIT) after the government refused calls for greater scrutiny of the scheme.
In a follow-up to his landmark 2002 report on healthcare funding, former Nat West bank chief Derek Wanless warned that NPfIT lacked a business case setting out how benefits would outweigh costs. He called for the scheme to be “comprehensively audited” and for “detailed external scrutiny” of NHS Connecting for Health, which runs NPfIT.
Wanless’s criticism is significant because his original report – produced for the Treasury under then-chancellor Gordon Brown – championed investment in IT and urged that the proportion of NHS spending devoted to IT be doubled.
But the government has rejected the call for greater scrutiny of the huge computer programme. "We do not consider there are grounds for another independent review of the national programme at this time,” a Department of Health spokesperson said.
Last month, the government turned down calls for a review of the programme from the Commons public accounts committee in a response that was buried in Treasury minutes published during the parliamentary recess.
Shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien slammed the government’s refusal, saying: “Having called endlessly on the government to come up with a review, we have now decided to call our own. I will be leading work on this in the next parliamentary session.”
He added: “The government’s IT programme has been woeful. What Wanless has shown is that despite the huge sums of money being poured into IT schemes, the results have yet to be shown. All we have witnessed in the past few years is problem after problem.”
Liberal Democrat health spokesperson John Pugh MP also criticised the government’s response. "Derek Wanless has drawn attention to the fact that we are saddled with a centrally imposed and very expensive IT programme that doesn't evolve from the needs and requirements of hospitals and health professionals,” he said.
"The NHS National Programme for IT is a sad legacy of the Blair age: a centrally imposed scheme for which no adequate business case was ever made. The Liberal Democrats have criticised the government for going ahead with this scheme without a proper cost benefit analysis. Like previous large-scale government IT projects, it now runs the real risk of coming apart at the seams."