Aidan HalliganProfessor Aidan Halligan (right), deputy chief medical officer and joint senior responsible officer of the National Programme for IT (NPfIT), is leaving to take up the top post in the Irish health service, it was announced today.

Professor Halligan’s departure means that the NPfIT has lost its two most senior clinical leads in less than six months.  In April Professor Peter Hutton, who had been clinical lead for NPfIT stepped down as head of the National Clinical Advisory Board citing the need for greater clarity “over arrangements over clinical input into the NPfIT".

Dr John Powell, chairman of the BMA’s IT committee, told E-Health Insider: “We have now had two resignations from two important positions leading on clinical involvement for different reasons.  It does cause concerns that there may be a lack of continuity and clinical leadership."

Dr Powell added that Professor Halligan may prove difficult to replace. “He did have a track record of delivering difficult programmes in clinical settings. I hope that NPfIT is able to find another replacement quickly, who has clinician’s confidence, to fill the position in the long-term."

Professor Halligan was appointed to the NPfIT in March 2004 as “director general for benefits realisation", and was given the responsibility for communicating with NHS staff about the aims and the development of the programme.

Concerns about the limited level of clinician involvement in and consultation over the NPfIT have been repeatedly highlighted as a major concern. An August 2004 survey of 1,000 clinicians by Medix-UK found a drop in doctors’ support for the programme.

Professor Halligan will take up his new post as CEO of the Irish Health Service Executive next April.  It is not yet clear whether his eventual replacement will also be a joint-SRO for the NPfIT, sharing responsibility with Director General Richard Granger.

Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson said in a statement:  “Aidan has made a very positive contribution to our work, in particular in developing clinical governance and improving the quality of care. His leadership in the transformation to modernise medical training and more recently helping to lead the National Programme for IT will also leave a positive legacy."

Sir Nigel Crisp, NHS Chief Executive, said in a separate statement: "The National Programme for IT has made tremendous progress and is moving into an important phase of implementation. We’ve already embedded clinical expertise at all levels of the programme and Aidan Halligan has contributed on the wider level of clinical engagement. We will be ensuring that we bring in the right clinical leadership that is so crucial to the success of the programme.