DFT Alistair Darling cropped

BT and CSC, contractors on the £12.7 billion NHS National Programme for IT, have been listed as making over 112 serious failures in the last fifteen months.

The contractors either failed to hit key milestones or provided a service that was significantly below what was paid for.

The programme is already over four years behind schedule, has a spiralling budget and has been branded in the press as being "close to imploding".

CSC failed to hit milestones in January, June, August, September, October and December last year. It failed to provide detailed implementation or remediation plans on time in August, September and December. The information was revealed in a parliamentary written answer by health minister Mike O' Brien.

In October, CSC also failed to make a payment to the Department for Health, possibly referring to a penalty payment for late delivery. In total, CSC was noted to have made 41 serious failures since January last year.

It has been reported that CSC’s deadline date of tomorrow for delivering the iSoft Lorenzo system at an acute trust, Morecambe Bay, will also be missed. While a new deadline has apparently been pencilled in for early April, health website E-Health Insider has in recent weeks said sources claim “a meaningful go-live” will not come until “later this year, and possibly much later” than that.

If CSC misses the deadline, it is at risk of losing its £3 billion contract on the programme. But, as one of only two suppliers left, observers have said it is likely to retain its work.

Meanwhile BT, which serves the London part of the National Programme with a £1 billion contract as well as running the ‘spine’ of data, was counted to have made 71 failures in the period.

BT’s failures were mainly critical service problems, in August, September, October, November, January, February and March.

BT was not noted to have missed any deadlines, which could indicate that it was judged to have met the 30 November deadline for delivering a workable version of the Cerner Millennium system to Kingston Hospital. That delivery is crucial to BT retaining its contract. On Monday, BT switched on a similar system at St George’s in Tooting.

Interestingly, Accenture, which quit the programme in 2007 and handed over work to CSC, was found to have made a string of its own failures in the last fifteen months. Accenture currently works on PACS, the digital X-ray scheme, which has largely been delivered. It made 47 repeat failures and 14 critical failures since January last year.

The Department of Health, BT and Accenture were unable to immediately comment. CSC did not respond to a request for comment.

NHS IT is increasingly becoming an election issue. The Conservatives have vowed to scrap centralised digital patient records, the most delayed and controversial part of the programme.

The Tories have also accused Labour of trying to sign new deals with CSC and BT ahead of an election. The contracts, they said, included tough penalty clauses that would make it nearly impossible to cancel the deals without incurring multibillion pound payouts to the suppliers.

Even Labour’s own Chancellor, Alistair Darling, said on television last year that the IT programme was unnecessary and “something that I think we don’t need to go ahead with just now”. After that comment, party officials scrambled to issue press statements correcting what he had said.

In a parliamentary answer yesterday, health minister Mike O’Brien said the Department of Health “demands a very high level of compliance from its suppliers”. Default notices issued to suppliers demonstrated matters that “need to be addressed”, he said. He declined to publish the details of the notices, citing commercial sensitivity.