The Department of Health has hosted one of the most widely-discussed IT change projects ever seen in the UK.
The NHS has dominated headlines and political debate from the beginning of the year with an election on the horizon, and in particular the extensive modernisation of the health service through IT. The controversial NHS National Programme for IT continues to draw arguments from all political parties and the Conservatives have accused the Labour government of renegotiating deals with major suppliers BT and CSC to "stitch up" an incoming government, which it claims will be unable to change the £12.7 billion contracts.
CSC though has defended the NHS programme and its involvement. Andrew Spence, UK healthcare strategy director at CSC said the integrator was "ruthlessly focused" on delivering the electronic patient records system. These digital health documents have attracted their own widespread controversy with the British Medical Association (BMA) calling for their introduction to be halted because the deployment is too fast and is damaging patient faith in electronic records.
In September 2008 a new leadership team was established, comprised of the UK's first CIO for Health, Christine Connelly, and director of programme and system delivery Martin Bellamy.
Connelly had previously held leadership positions at Cadbury Schweppes and BP. Bellamy had been CIO of the Pension service and he had previously held control of a major part of the Department of Work and Pensions' change programme. He left the DoH for a position in the Cabinet Office in June 2009 and was replaced by Tim Donohoe and Carol Clarke
Connelly's role is to "deliver the Department's overall information strategy and integrating leadership across the NHS", according to the DoH's website. That strategy, known as the National Programme for IT, is intended to do nothing less than revolutionise NHS information workflow and is costed at about £12.7bn. The success or otherwise of Connelly's reign will be based on her promise to end delays of electronic medical records. She has said that if there is not clear progress by November 2009, a new plan could be hatched.
In an email sent to colleagues on the departure of Bellamy, Connelly wrote:
"The challenges ahead are tough, particularly in the acute sector, but achievable and we are united behind our objectives for the remainder of the year. Collectively we remain absolutely focused on all key deliverables ... I know that with change comes uncertainty for employees - and this news probably fuels that uncertainty - but let's not forget the real appetite out in the NHS for quality informatics and the capability we have already shown in delivering an information infrastructure for one of the largest organisations in the world and a range of systems that are now used every day in the NHS, such as PACS and Choose and Book, to improve patient care."
On the eve of the departure of Fujitsu as an outsourcing partner, Connelly said in an April 2009 speech that she would open up sourcing to competition at "acute" sights in the south of England and offer toolkits by March 2010 to allow more local configuration of systems.
In January 2009, MPs slammed the DoH for its confidentiality agreement with key supplier CSC and in March the Department was admonished by the Information Commissioner for its records management.