The government plans to publish the full version of its procurement strategy for the NHS IT programme by December 2002, according to answers given to parliamentary questions by health minister Hazel Blears.

The latest details of the procurement strategy behind the NHS IT programme were published in answers provided by Ms Blears, in response to a series of parliamentary questions (PQs) asked by Liberal Democrat MP Matthew Taylor. Some of the answers provide an object lesson in the Whitehall art of the finely drafted PQ response.

Asked whether ‘Delivering 21st Century IT Support for the NHS’ had passed the Office of Government Commerce’s (OGC) gate zero gateway review this summer, Ms Blears replied that it had “completed” the review, and added: "The gateway review process is not an audit and the key stages of the review process are not in a strict sense, pass or fail."

She added that the “recommendations” made by the OGC at gate zero were now being taken on board. "We are acting on their recommendations to ensure the programme management monitoring and resourcing is appropriate and are now working towards gateway review one".

Other PQs asked what action was planned to implement corrective actions identified by the Office of Government Commerce as necessary following its gate zero review, and how many corrective actions to the NHS IT programme were identified by the review.

Ms Blears replied: "The review provides project teams with advice and guidance from fellow practitioners and in order to maintain the integrity of this advice, this is held to be completely confidential by both parties." The corrective actions recommended were not listed.

She added: "No action plan with the Office of Government Commerce is routinely produced as a part of the gateway review process and none has been agreed in this case."

Ms Blears also made clear that "each major component" of the national IT programme will be subject to a separate OGC gate three review – the key point at which the investment decision is taken. Each of these reviews, expected to be for e-booking, e-prescribing, electronic records and infrastructure, is promised to be completed by Spring 2003.

In response to a question about the total expected cost of implementing the NHS IT strategy, for each year between 2003 to 2009, Ms Blears reiterated that ‘Delivering the NHS Plan’ in April 2002 promised a greater share of new investment for ICT.

"The increased levels of funding from April 2003 to March 2006 are part of the Spending Review 2002 and no details have been made available yet," said Ms Blears. Announcements on departmental spending are due to be made in November.

Asked whether the e-Envoy’s office will be involved in managing the implementation of the NHS IT Programme Ms Blears confirmed that that e-Envoy had been consulted on the initial development of the programme and will be part of the ministerial task force overseeing the programme led by Lord Hunt.

Questioned on what discussions the Department of Health has had with potential preferred service providers before announcement of the NHS IT policy, and asked to list the potential preferred service providers, Ms Blears simply replied: "The department routinely receives many approaches from suppliers of healthcare information technology and information communication technology".

She added: "The policy for some time has been to promote partnership working across the IT supplier community and this has involved a two way dialogue on the aims and objectives of the department and ideas based on the experience of a whole range of small and major IT suppliers."

Two questions were posed about the consequences of the preferred services provider model for NHS IT procurement, and the advice received by the Secretary of State on the PSP model. No direct answer was provided. Instead Ms Blears stressed that a summary of the overall procurement strategy was published on 26 July to enable consultation and that "the feedback and comments are being reviewed".

She added: "The full version of the procurement strategy will be available by December 2002".

Asked what advice had been given to NHS trusts and PCTs relating to potential planning blight, following announcement of the new NHS IT strategy, Ms Blears replied all NHS trusts are expected to have implemented the first generation of electronic records by 2005. "Wherever current procurements are in hand our clear message has been to proceed."