NHS' £11.4bn IT project: Scrapped? Not even close

No matter what the government says, the National Programme for IT isn't finished yet...

The government says it wants to hasten the demise of the giant NHS National Programme for IT - but silicon.com chief reporter Nick Heath explains why the project isn't going to end any time soon.

The ill-starred NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT) is the tech project that just won't die.

No matter how many times the government announces that it is killing the project off, the £11.4bn project keeps trundling on.

Today the Department of Health (DoH) made another announcement saying the NPfIT's days are numbered - pronouncing that there will be an "acceleration of the dismantling of the National Programme for IT", with the predictable result of newpapers dutifully reporting, once again, how the NPfIT has croaked, once and for all.

Summary Care Records

The Department of Health will struggle to accelerate the demise of the National Programme for ITPhoto: Shutterstock

The problem is that the government has so far produced little evidence of what that statement really means, or how it will kill off the NPfIT, other than recycling a promise to move away from imposing NPfIT IT systems on health trusts that it first made last year.

Behind the spin very little appears to be changing - the NPfIT's flagship £7bn project to create electronic health records for patients in England is continuing and there are no changes to completed NPfIT projects such as Choose and Book and the Picture Archiving and Communications Service. So much for a rapid dismantling, and so much for the "£12bn NHS computer system is scrapped" headlines.

Even if the government is determined to kill off other bits of NPfIT, its contractual obligations would likely stop it. There is some £4bn-worth of work still left to carry out on the electronic health records project and cancelling the contracts involved early would lead to the government incurring massive penalty payouts: terminating CSC's £3bn NPfIT contract, for example, could cost more than seeing it through to completion, according to former DoH CIO Christine Connelly.

What's more, the government is still caught up in negotiations with another NPfIT supplier, Fujitsu, as it tries to tie up the loose ends that arose from Fujitsu's early departure from the NPfIT in 2008, and is unlikely to be keen to repeat the experience.

It's not as if the government hasn't been...