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International

UK health IT program on the chopping block?

LONDON, UK – The British “Connecting for Health” programme is again under fire in the United Kingdom and under serious threat of being dramatically downsized. Connecting for Health is an £11 billion attempt to computerize all healthcare providers and create a centralized system of electronic health records.

Last week, the British Public Accounts Committee released a report stating that although £2.7bn of taxpayers’ money has already been spent on the programme, it is unclear what the benefits have been and so ministers should think about whether the rest of the cash could be better spent elsewhere.

Although the intention was to create a single network that would allow NHS staff across England to access any patients’ details, the report says this will not happen now and the country has been left with a “patchwork” of costly and fragmented IT systems whose future is uncertain because of reforms to the health service.

The chief executive of the NHS, Sir David Nicholson (pictured), also comes in for criticism for failing to oversee the project properly while civil servants provided “late, inconsistent and contradictory” information to the MPs’ inquiry.

Margaret Hodge, the committee’s chairman, said: “The Department of Health is not going to achieve its original aim of a fully integrated care records system across the NHS. Trying to create a one-size-fits-all system in the NHS was a massive risk and has proven to be unworkable.

“The Department has been unable to demonstrate what benefits have been delivered from the £2.7 billion spent on the project so far.

“It should now urgently review whether it is worth continuing with the remaining elements of the care records system. The £4.3 billion which the Department expects to spend might be better used to buy systems that are proven to work, that are good value for money and which deliver demonstrable benefits to the NHS.”

The integrated electronic care records system is a central part of Labour’s £11bn National Programme for IT in the NHS, which was set up in 2002 and faced repeated criticism since then over its cost and technical problems, most recently from the National Audit Office.

In a report published on Wednesday, the MPs say the intention to allow rapid sharing of patients’ records was “worthwhile” but the Department of Health has been unable to make it work.

They claim that creating a single system was always a “massive risk” especially as clinicians were not asked for suggestions on its operation.

In the north, midlands and east of England just 10 of 166 trusts have received only a basic system, while no mental health body has received one. Dozens of different interim and local schemes have been devised, at greater cost.

Whitehall officials are said to lack “basic management information” on the number of systems built and their cost, even though there is a body overseeing the whole project with 1,300 staff that has spent £820million.

Sir David Nicholson was accused by the committee of having “lacked the capacity to meet his responsibilities fully” as Senior Responsible Owner for the scheme, leading to “increasing costs and delays.”

The Department of Health is now trying to renegotiate some contracts and is working on a slimmed-down “menu of modules” that hospitals can choose for their patient records systems, but there is no guarantee the systems will work with each other.


Posted August 11, 2011

 

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