An IT project designed to give NHS bodies access to GP computer systems is over-budget, behind schedule and being used by only one organisation.
These were the damning findings of a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) after an investigation into the General Practice Extraction Service (GPES), which started life in 2007 and was managed by the now-defunct NHS Information Centre.
The GPES is meant to allow NHS organisations to access data from GP practice computer systems to monitor the quality of healthcare being delivered, and to plan and pay for health services and improve medical research.
The service was meant to go live between 2009 and 2010 but the first sets of data were made available only in April 2014, while the cost of the project rose from £14m to £40m during the procurement stage alone.
Another £5.5m has been wasted with delays and write-offs since work started, the NAO said.
It also noted that the Health & Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), the organisation which has been responsible for the GPES system since 2013 when the NHS Information Centre closed, values the system as being worth only £12.9m.
Finally, only one organisation, NHS England, has been able to start receiving data from GPES. The NAO added that it seems unlikely that the GPES, under its current setup, will ever deliver NHS-wide access as originally planned.
The HSCIC acknowledged in response to the report that the creation of the GPES had not been well managed and that it had not been delivered as intended. However, the organisation claimed that it is overhauling the system to deliver proper benefits to the NHS.
“It is clear that the GPES procurement and design stage was not good enough, regardless of the intention of predecessor bodies,” it said.
“The HSCIC is equally clear that, on 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.”
This work has included hiring new technical experts to lead the project’s development, stabilising the service to help support payments, and improving and increasing the amount of data made available on the system.
The findings of the NAO's report are not surprising, as numerous government IT projects have been criticised for going over budget and failing to deliver their objectives.
The deeply flawed National Project for IT wasted billions and delivered little if any benefits to the NHS.
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