Audit Office calls for e-health programme shake-up

£2.7 billion spent so far on the UK’s electronic care record systems does ‘not represent value for money’, according to the National Audit Office.

The rate at which care record systems are placed across the NHS under the National Programme for IT is falling below expectations, and not every patient under the Programme will receive one, a report published by the body asserts.

The original aim of the Programme for IT was the creation of a fully integrated electronic care records system designed to reduce reliance on paper files, make accurate patient records available at all times, and enable the rapid transmission of information between different parts of the NHS before the end of 2010. The systems the Department of Health contracted its suppliers - BT and CSC - to deliver are now not expected to be in place until 2015

Though there has been progress in London, it is unlikely that the remaining work in the North, Midlands and East can be completed by 2016, the report adds. Where systems have been delivered they are ‘not yet able to do everything the Department intended’. Based on performance, the NAO has ‘no grounds for confidence’ that the remaining planned spending of £4.3 billion will be any different.

“The NHS is now getting far fewer systems than planned despite the Department paying contractors almost the same amount of money,” says NAO head Amyas Morse. “This is an example of a department fundamentally underestimating the scale and complexity of a major IT-enabled change programme.”

The Department has now changed its approach, moving away from its intention to replace systems wholesale, and instead building on and using trusts' existing systems. To do this the Department estimates it will cost ‘at least’ £220 million to get the systems to work together.

“Everyone is agreed to improve patient care in a modernised NHS one has to embrace IT in a responsible and realistic way,” says health minister Simon Burns, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “What we have been looking at in the interim when we came into power is allowing local trusts to adapt their existing systems, rather than having to get rid of them and bring in new systems.”

The Department insists it is crucial to save taxpayers money yet build an effective IT system which will improve and modernise the NHS.

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