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January 28, 2009

NHS IT project “in doubt” says watchdog

By Jason Stamper

The multi-billion NHS medical records IT project today came in for strong and widespread criticism about its cost, reliability and security, after a cross-party public spending watchdog confirmed its progress was “way off the pace.”

The hugely ambitious NHS change programme change aims to turn a legacy patchwork of 5,000 different computer systems into a cohesive infrastructure that ultimately could unify the NHS and connect together almost half a million healthcare practitioners and professionals.

Notably it involves the deployment of an electronic care records service to ensure clinicians and health care workers can access patient information, whenever and wherever it is needed.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee yesterday revealed that there had been just six deployments of such records systems in the NHS in the first five months of 2008/09, and warned of further delays in its roll out. 

Parts of the project are running at least four years behind schedule. PAC confirmed that the months of legal wrangling and eventual termination of a services contract with Fujitsu last year would likely cause further delays. “The original aim was for the systems to be fully implemented by 2010,” said chairman Edward Leigh.

The change programme will also take in an electronic booking service to make it easier and faster for GPs and other primary care staff to book hospital appointments for patients, as well as a system for the electronic transmission of prescriptions.

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But most of the problems explored by PAC centre on the limited deployment of the so-called Millennium system from Cerner and BT, and issues with the Lorenzo development that is being led by CSC. Delivery risks were “as serious as ever” the chair of the Commons Committee said.

His group decided yesterday that the NHS should be given no longer than six months to get effective care record systems into acute trusts. After that, the Department of Health should be seeking alternatives.

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