Defunct NHS IT project still costing UK taxpayers billions, MPs claim

Doctor and patient meeting in an office

MPs have poured scorn on Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's vision of having a paperless NHS by 2018, because of its "sorry history" in tackling IT projects to date.

This was one of the findings of the Public Accounts Committee's (PAC) long-awaited report into the now defunct NHS National Programme for IT, which aimed to provide a centralised database of medical records for UK citizens.

As with the National Programme, it will be important to balance the need for standardisation across the NHS with the desire for local ownership.

The committee also revealed that UK taxpayers are still being forced to cough up for the project, despite the Government calling time on its activities in 2011, due to delays in the renegotiation of IT contracts with software company CSC.

The organisation was originally contracted, a decade ago, to deploy its Lorenzo electronic patient record system to 166 NHS Trusts by 2005 at a cost of 2.4 billion.

However, by 2011, only 10 Trusts had deployed the software. The delays prompted the Department of Health (DoH) to try and renegotiate its contract with CSC.

"Despite two years of negotiations the full resetting of the contract is yet to be agreed with CSC, but the department estimates that the contract is still likely to cost about 2.2 billion, including 572 million for the Lorenzo care records system," the PAC report states.

As a result, the PAC said the full and final cost of the project is still not known, although recent DoH forecasts estimated it to be around 9.8 billion.

"However, this figure did not include the future costs associated with the Department's contract with CSC for the Lorenzo care records system or the potential future costs arising from the Department terminating Fujitsu's contract for care records systems in the South of England," the report added.

The Committee said the benefits the project had delivered to date had been "extremely disappointing", even though it admits the systems deployed as a result of it will be used for years to come.

Based on the programme's outcomes, MPs expressed scepticism at the attainability of the Government's paper-free NHS vision.

As reported by IT Pro in January 2013, the Government is pushing healthcare providers to replace paper-based records and prescriptions with digital tools over the next five years to cut costs and boost efficiency.

"We have reported previously on the shortcomings of the National Programme, which included poor negotiating capability, resulting in deals which were poor value for money and weak programme management and oversight," the PAC said.

"Making the NHS paperless will involve further significant investment in IT and business transformation. However, the Department has not even set aside a specific budget for this purpose.

"As with the National Programme, it will be important to balance the need for standardisation across the NHS with the desire for local ownership and flexibility," it added.

Therefore, the PAC said the Department will need to learn from the National Programme for IT debacle to make its paperless vision a reality.

"If the Department is to deliver a paperless NHS, it needs to...develop a clear plan, including estimates of costs and benefits and a realistic timetable," it concluded.

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.