The National Audit Office (NAO) has slammed the NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT), arguing that its original vision will not be realised and that the core aim of giving every patient an electronic care record will not be achieved.
In yet another blow for the large-scale, monolithic IT projects favoured by the previous Labour government, NAO head Amyas Morse said that the Department of Health had "fundamentally underestimated the scale and complexity" of the project, and that it needs to admit it is now in "damage limitation mode".
"The original vision for the NPfIT in the NHS will not be realised. The NHS is now getting far fewer systems than planned, despite the Department paying contractors almost the same amount of money," he said.
"I hope that my report today, together with the forthcoming review by the Cabinet Office and Treasury, announced by the prime minister, will help to prevent further loss of public value from future expenditure on the NPfIT."
The £11.4bn NPfIT was launched in 2002 as a flagship IT project of the Blair government, and was intended to improve service quality and patient care by instituting a more joined-up approach to the NHS.
The programme included a broadband network and a system to electronically share X-rays, and had the core aim of an integrated care record system to facilitate the rapid transmission of information between different parts of the NHS.
However, escalating costs and problems with contractors has meant a reduction in the number of systems to be delivered, and delivery of the care records system to all NHS organisations will now not be achieved, the report found.
"Delivery of the contracted number of systems continues to fall well below expectations and fewer systems will now be delivered to NHS organisations," the report continued.
"Progress with delivery of care records systems continues to fall well below expectations. The Department no longer intends to replace systems wholesale, and will instead in some instances build on Trusts' existing systems."
Clive Longbottom, an analyst with Quocirca, argued that one of the major problems with the NPfIT was its scope and expected timescale.
"IT projects in the public sector have to focus on dealing with the issues of the here and now. Ten-year projects solve problems that are 10 years old, i.e. problems that are most likely not there any longer," he told V3.co.uk.
"By doing short projects linked towards a longer-term vision, the results can be far more positive. It does, however, need strong public sector project management skills to ensure that the systems integrators involved do things right, and this is where the public sector falls down."
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