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

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

...trying to extract itself from NPfIT already. Back in March this year, Prime Minister David Cameron said the government was considering "terminating some of, or indeed all of" CSC's NPfIT contract with the Department of Health. For its part, the DoH has been in talks with CSC for more than a year about renegotiating the terms of its contract, and has said it expects to reduce the contract's value by £500m.

It's only understandable that the government wants to be seen to be washing its hands of NPfIT: the programme has become synonymous with the troubled electronic health records project, which is running years behind schedule and, according to a Cabinet Office review of the project whose findings the government announced in part today, "cannot deliver to its original intent".

Almost 10 years have passed since the electronic health records scheme was announced in 2002 and there are still thousands of surgeries and hospitals waiting for records system to be deployed. Meanwhile, almost none of the systems that have been delivered to date are providing the full electronic patient record that the Department of Health expected when the scheme was set up.

So it's no surprise that the government wants to rid itself of this costly hangover that it inherited from the Labour government, and there are signs that its doing what it can to control spend on the NPfIT and accelerate its demise: signs such as the government today announcing that it has scrapped the NPfIT board, the Department of Health body that worked with local health trusts to oversee progress on NPfIT projects, and will put in place a new body to "support government decision making" on the programme.

The fact remains however that the NPfIT is still alive and kicking, and the government's weighty contractual obligations to NPfIT's suppliers mean that the programme can only be cut so far. None of this is to say that the government isn't right to try to cut costs, but that the announcement they've made is simplistic in the extreme. It's a far more complicated than just pressing a big button marked 'Stop'.

To pare back the programme too quickly, or indeed scrap it altogether, would likely cost the government dear, and in these times of austerity the government can ill afford accusations of wasting yet more money on NPfIT.

About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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