CSC has delivered a key patient system at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Trust, but confusion is rife as to what it means for the new government’s NHS IT policy.
Today, CSC plans to finalise the first phase of the implementation of the iSoft Lorenzo 1.9 patient administration system at the trust. The system initially went live over the weekend, accessible to 3,500 staff. But will not run in Accident & Emergency settings unless the trust implements an updated version of the system, and there is understood to be considerable discussion between the NHS and suppliers about this system.
The Morecambe Bay deployment, if it proves to be of a workable system, is aimed at demonstrating CSC’s suitability as a supplier, as well as triggering a major payment to the company.
But the government has been unable to clarify its stance on CSC’s performance or the long term future of the programme, saying only that assessments were still being made. CSC had not commented at the time of writing.
As contract talks loom, the NHS was today accused by Richard Bacon MP of the authoritative House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, of overpaying suppliers for work when it renegotiates deals.
Bacon, a long time critic of the way the programme has been run, told CIO sister title Computerworld UK that in contract renegotiations, the government “pays a lot of money for a little extra. It’s like a payment through the back door”.
In recent renegotiations, the £1.1 billion contract with BT, the NHS IT Programme's other major supplier, shrunk by only £112 million, but large amounts of work were cut out.
Only around half of London’s acute hospitals, meaning those with an Accident & Emergency unit, will now receive the central Cerner Millennium patient administration software. BT will no longer provide a dedicated system for sharing records between hospitals, E-Health Insider reported.
As CSC awaits news of its future, analysts noted that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties making up the new government have not yet clarified their stance on the programme.
Before the election, the parties consistently called for centralised patient records to be scrapped under the £12.7 billion National Programme for IT. But they have made almost no mention of plans – in spite of pledging to scrap £7 billion worth of other databases.
The coalition parties comments have been buried in a document, stating patients will be given “control of their own health records”. It did not state if this meant more control over the existing records being created under the national programme, or a move to records held online by companies like Google, as previously advocated strongly by the Conservatives.
The parties now face a dilemma with CSC possibly having hit the key milestone, albeit delayed, at Morecambe Bay. A Department of Health spokesperson was unable to clarify the situation, other than to say “it was too early to say” what government policy would be. Payment to CSC would only be made when “certain criteria” were met, the spokesperson said.
If the government were to attempt to cancel the programme and supplier contracts, it could face heavy penalty clauses making such a move difficult and expensive. Georgina O’Toole, research director at analyst house TechMarketView said lawyers were “likely to be rubbing their hands with glee”. If the government sticks with the programme, and goes for more localisation, the CSC agreement “won’t stop” it from trying to change terms, she said.
“We suspect that what is desired by the new government will be very different from what is ultimately possible,” she said. “The next steps are likely to be largely driven by the small print in contracts and the expense of cancelling, curtailing or reducing the scope of existing deals.”
iSoft, the software firm that sells Lorenzo, this week said in a financial statement that it lamented the lack of decisions. The "political uncertainty” in the lead up to the election and the change in government had “led to the deferral of decisions”, delayed payments and held up negotiations.