The Department of Health (DoH) is tasked with running the UK’s health and social services functions – from hospitals to dentistry to looked-after children – with two main offices, a London HQ and a regional base in Leeds. This year the NHS in particular has been under the spotlight as increasing funnelling of resources from central government doesn’t seem to be achieving much visible improvement, with a £500 million deficit for the 2005 financial year forcing many Trusts to seek savings through job cuts.

One of the Department’s success stories in ICT, the NHS Direct call centre service, was so impacted, with hundreds of posts being lost nationally
in a restructuring. The deficit for the 2005 financial year could be as much as three times as higher when fully calculated.

Meanwhile there are mixed achievements around the Department’s most visible work in ICT, the ongoing £6.2 billion Connecting for Health project, formerly known as the National Programme for IT. A scuffle broke out in April between one of the prime suppliers of new systems, Accenture, and a health specialist firm called iSoft, with the former blaming the latter for delays that meant the £2bn electronic patient record system would be even later than a rescheduled date.

The system, which when it goes live will give 50 million NHS patients an electronic record, links 30,000 GPs with 300 hospitals and which is thought to be the world’s largest civil computer project, remains the subject of criticism over patient confidentiality concerns. Addressing such concerns earlier this year Richard Granger, director general of NHS IT, put the blame partly on suppliers but also on the complex nature of the health service: “On some occasions a solution that has proved extremely popular, successful and easy to implement in one part of the country has had extreme difficulties in another part. [2006] is going to be about getting under the lid of some of those variabilities.” As the government tries to implement its transformational plan, the NHS and other DoH structures are expected to start using technologies such as shared services. In March, for instance, a single protocol for health and social care services to legally share data was set as a target by the Cabinet Office and the DoH.