Professor Aidan Halligan, a former joint senior responsible officer (SRO) for the National Programme for IT, has said that doctors’ substantial pay rises have made them no happier and what they really need is leadership to help them take advantage of smart processes and enabling technology to improve care.

In an interview with the British Journal of Healthcare Management, Professor Halligan, said the NHS was “populated by bright, dedicated, well-intentioned people”, but the way they worked and the way services were organised had to be challenged for them to get the results they wanted. 

He said the NHS was suffering from a leadership void which had caused the service to lose its way. In particular he cited lack of leadership as a reason for the failure to take advantage of smart processes and enabling technology to deliver the quality of care that doctors wanted to see.

The interview’s publication coincided with a call from a 900 strong group called Doctors for Reform for a review of the way the NHS is funded.

Professor Halligan was appointed to the NPfIT in March 2004 as part-time "director general for benefits realisation", and was given the responsibility for communicating with NHS staff about the aims and the development of the programme. He shared the SRO role with NHS IT chief executive, Richard Granger.

He departed six months later to become head of Ireland’s health service, a job he later declined to take up for personal reasons. He stayed on with the NHS as director of clinical governance.

Professor Halligan’s remarks appear to be directed at the regime run by former NHS chief executive, Sir Nigel Crisp, who took early retirement last month as the service announced record financial deficits.

Analysing the reasons for the NHS’ situation, Professor Halligan said the use of targets to improve the NHS had initially been courageous and appropriate but had become “an end rather than a means”. Together with “blinkered performance management” the targets had distorted healthcare priorities and prompted initiatives built on little clinical understanding and massive over-management.

"We have learnt that throwing money at a problem only alloows us to do more of what we ahve always done.  Any suggestion of real reform has been a deceit: working patterns, practice and customs are at the heart of many capa city issues and have never been challenged," he said.