Suspended Fujitsu healthcare head tells government about NHS IT concerns

The former lead of health care at Fujitsu - suspended after he reportedly made negative comments about the National Health Service (NHS) IT programme - has given evidence to the House of Commons about the implementation of the IT project.

The National Programme for IT (NPfIT), a multi-billion pound program to integrate healthcare software and digitise patient records in the UK, has come under heavy criticism, as has its suppliers, including Fujitsu and its Cerner platform.

One of those speaking out about the NPfIT was Andrew Rollerson, who was quoted in media reports as criticising the program at a conference in February. After the media coverage, Rollerson was suspended from his role as practice lead in charge of the tender for the programme.

Speaking to the Public Accounts Committee personally - not on behalf of Fujitsu - Rollerson said his comments were taken out of context and that he disagrees fundamentally with the media reports that the program is doomed to fail. "I believe that there are certain elements of the deployment that could be done better but, given one cannot re write history, the track we are going down can be made to succeed," Rollerson told the committee.

The programme is stumbling, he said, because of the sheer scale of the changes. He compared it to the US space programme, saying it's on a "similar scale in terms of its ambition and vision."

Due to the scale of the project, standard project management techniques haven't been enough. Rollerson said the management techniques are comparable to Boeing in the 1950s, which tried to scale up a standard aeroplane to jumbo jet size, making a craft much too heavy to take-off. They needed to go back and redesign their methods. "I believe we are in a situation where we need to be looking at the programme in that kind of light: what is it going to take in terms of project management techniques, in terms of vision and leadership, to actually make this work over the ten-year life of the programme. I do not think we are asking those questions yet," he said.

Despite Rollerson's criticsm, he does not see himself as a whistleblower and stressed the massive IT project is not doomed.

"It is, in my view, very much an IT-driven project and historically they have not succeeded. There is and there will be more resistance from the trusts if it is driven relentlessly along an IT path," he said. "I believe it is essential that the trusts are engaged so that the ultimate aim of the programme, which is the enablement of the transformation, the NHS, can be realised."

He stressed that the programme, despite its massive size, is no different from any other IT implementation. "The history of the IT projects is that typically where they are left to an IT department they fail. The reason they fail is because the people who are expected to use the application in the end have not been engaged," he said.

He compared the NHS transformation to the business world, where IT is just one aspect of a solution which will also include restructuring, retraining, and new processes. "The danger that I foresee in this situation is that we will be heading too far in the other direction, that the driver, if we are not careful, will become the technology itself."