NAO highlights ballooning costs and massive delays in GP IT system

2 Jul 15

An IT project designed to extract data from GP practice computers came in three times over budget and almost four years late, a National Audit Office investigation has found.

Costs on the General Practice Extraction Service (GPES) increased from £14m to £40m during the planning stage and, despite plans to be up and running in 2009/10, many customers are currently still waiting to receive data they have requested. Just one customer (NHS England) has so far received any data from the service.

The NAO probe follows a financial audit at the Health and Social Care Information Centre, which inherited the GPES project in April 2013. The audit found the system was not working as expected.

GPES has been set to help NHS organisations monitor care quality, help them plan and fund services and inform clinical research by providing them with data from GP surgeries.

Costs increased significantly during the planning and procurement stage, and, although further cost increases have been smaller, at least £5.5m has had to be written off, the NAO found.

However, the watchdog said the need for the service remained, so further public funds were required to improve GPES or it would have to be replaced.

Commenting on the findings, Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “Failed IT projects have long been an expensive cliché and, sadly for the taxpayers and service users, this is no exception.

“GPES has managed to provide data for just one customer – NHS England – and the data was received four years later than originally planned. While taxpayers are left picking up the tab for this failure, customers who could benefit, such as research and clinical audit organisations, are waiting around for the system to deliver what they need to improve our health service.”

In a statement, HSCIC said it was clear that the procurement and design stage of GPES by its predecessor bodies “was not good enough”.

“The HSCIC is equally clear that upon our creation we took full responsibility for delivering a data extraction service that is operationally and financially efficient. We are maximising the working aspects of GPES and replacing those parts that do not work.

“Our focus is on developing a suitable service that meets the needs of the NHS and patients.”

Actions taken by the HSCIC include the recruitment of a senior team of technical experts and stabilising the service.

“After stabilising the service we are working with organisations that have previously made extract requests to agree on their current requirements and be realistic on what can be achieved. We expect to complete 24 different types of data extract in 2015/16,” it stated.

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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