NHS Executives IT strategy slammed

13 Apr 00
A committee of MPs has castigated the NHS Executive for its failure to manage investment in IT projects and warns that without a major 'sea change' its £1bn strategy will not deliver value for money.

14 April 2000

The Executive's handling of its first six-year investment plan for new IT projects – valued at £152m – was so poor that it has since triggered a major review of procurement policies across the NHS.

The Treasury's Public Sector Productivity Panel is expected to publish the review within the next month and it is likely to introduce shorter contract limits for public-private partnerships.

A report from the Public Accounts Committee found that the Executive failed to measure or monitor the overall expenditure of its 1992 investment policy.

It set few performance targets for its six main IT programmes, which include NHSnet, and did not evaluate the 'essential elements' of the overall strategy, making it impossible for the PAC to determine whether it was value for money.

'We were even more disappointed at their failure to evaluate the NHSnet and NHS Number projects because they are fundamental to the success of the 1998 strategy,' the report states.

The PAC found significant delays in implementing new systems, with fewer than 15% of GPs linked to NHSnet by May 1999.

The report warns that, despite some improvements, the Executive is in danger of repeating the same mistakes in its latest strategy, scheduled to run until 2005. The PAC found that investment has only been allocated until 2000, with the £1bn value of the scheme simply a 'ball park' figure and likely to rise. It had also failed to produce an overall business case for the plan, risking the same lack of cohesion as the 1992 strategy, the PAC said.

'Time and again we have seen poor design, poor implementation and weak cost control,' David Davis, chair of the PAC, said. 'There now needs to be a sea change in the way the NHS manages its investment in IT. The NHS Executive needs to exercise a firm grip on implementation to secure the full benefits of investing more than £1bn in new systems.'

A spokesman for the NHS Executive said he could not comment on the detail of the report until the government had fully responded, but added that officials did not find the report 'overly critical'.


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