The NHS has spent over £39 million pounds on lawyers to support the National Programme for IT, which has so far lost half of its lead suppliers.

The troubled programme is over four years late and has seen two out of four main suppliers exit after tough contract negotiations.

The NHS spent £39,174,815 in the seven years to March 2009, for “legal and commercial support”, health minister Mike O’Brien told MPs yesterday.

O’Brien said the money covered a “range of things”, including contract drafting. The expenditure is also understood to have addressed ongoing legal issues pertaining to Accenture and Fujitsu, which left the programme in 2006 and 2008 respectively, as well as renegotiation of contracts for remaining suppliers BT and CSC.

The legal bill contrasts with the £13.3 million spent to build the North East NHS Surgery Centre in Gateshead. The centre has 60 in-patient beds, 4 operating theatres and a 16 patient day case spaces, treating in-patients and day patients needing orthopaedic, gynaecological and general surgery.

Last month, the Department of Health said it set a “new direction” for the £12.7 billion programme, suggesting there would be more local control over decisions.

It is currently evaluating the performance of CSC and BT after each implemented patient administration systems in an acute hospital. In the past the government has said it could reconsider the contracts entirely if progress is not judged to have been satisfactory.