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MPs call for patient care records system to be dropped

£7billion care records system is unworkable, says report

Adrian O'Dowd

Wednesday, 03 August 2011

MPs have called on the government to consider scrapping the £7billion care records system for the NHS, claiming it is unworkable and a waste of public money.

In a damning report published today, MPs on the parliamentary public accounts committee said that the care records system – part of the overall £11.4billion National Programme for IT in the NHS – has been expensive and growing problems with it meant is was now “unworkable”. 

Since the overall programme was launched in 2002, the Department of Health has spent £6.4billion on it, said the report The National Programme for IT in the NHS: an update on the delivery of detailed care records systems.

The MPs inquiry focused on delivery of what was meant to be a fully integrated electronic care records system under the National Programme. 

The scheme was originally intended to ensure every NHS patient had an individual electronic care record that could be easily transmitted between different parts of the NHS and NHS staff. 

The report, however, says that this has proved to be beyond the capacity of the Department, which has admitted it will not be able to deliver a universal system and will rely instead upon individual NHS trusts to develop systems compatible with those in the Programme. 

The report says: “The Department has failed to demonstrate the benefits achieved for the £2.7 billion spent to date on care records systems.” 

As a result, the Department should review whether to continue the programme and consider whether the remaining £4.3 billion to be spent by 2015-16 would be better spent elsewhere. 

One problem had been the Department’s failure to get the best out of its suppliers, despite having paid them significant amounts of money already. 

One supplier, BT, had proved unable to deliver against its original contract and the Department had had to agree a revised contract that would reduce the number of systems but increase the price for each system BT delivered.

“The Department is clearly overpaying BT to implement systems,” says the report. 

The committee also criticised the Department’s “weak programme management” overall. 

Margaret Hodge, chair of the committee and Labour MP for Barking, said: “Trying to create a one-size-fits-all system in the NHS was a massive risk and has proven to be unworkable.  

“The Department 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.” 

A Department spokesman said spending on the NHS IT programme had already been cut by £1.3 billion and added: “The government recognises the weaknesses of a top-down, centrally-imposed IT system.  

“Although elements of the programme have been delivered successfully, the policy approach previously taken has failed to engage the NHS sufficiently. We are determined to deliver even more value for money from the programme.”

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