Perhaps the most unexpected part of the Commons Public Accounts Committee hearing on the National Programme for IT this week was the appearance of two senior figures from the programme’s early days – Dr Anthony Nowlan and Professor Peter Hutton – who came back to haunt the proceedings with accusations about lack of clinical engagement.

Professor Hutton, a distinguished anaesthetist who resigned as chair of the National Clinical Advisory Board in April 2004, said: “A senior person said he felt the consultation was a sham. We used to meet in Starbucks in Leeds station to talk about it.”

He told the committee that he wrote setting out his concerns about the lack of meaningful clinical engagement ahead of systems actually being procured and within 10 days was asked to resign.

Dr Nowlan, a former director of the NHS Information Authority, said: “I was approached to provide hundreds of names of people who supported it [the NPfIT] and I declined.”

He said that he spoke to 10 people on the list of those who were shown to have been consulted and “none had any memory of any meaningful input into the programme.”

Questioned later in the hearing again on the issue, Dr Nowlan, explained: “In preparing for various reviews I was told they required the names of hundreds of committee members who had been involved. I felt it was not a fair representation of what was the situation in the few months the work had been done. Having given people a document and got some views is not a satisfactory test of the feasibility of doing this.”

Committee member, Richard Bacon, asked Dr Nowlan: “If clinicians weren’t designing the specification, who was?”

Dr Nowlan explained that a Design Authority was set up and Bacon asked what its members’ experience of healthcare was. Dr Nowlan replied: “In terms of the people in charge, none that I could see.”

Both Dr Nowlan and Professor Hutton departed from the programme in less than happy circumstances, but they rejected a suggestion that their remarks were ‘sour grapes.’

Professor Hutton said: "We’ve both got on with our lives." Dr Nowlan said: “It was an enormous relief [to leave] because I was increasingly feeling my position was compromised.”

Connecting for Health (CfH) chief executive, Richard Granger, said that Professor Hutton and Dr Nowlan’s statements were “not my recollection of events.”

He added: “There are thousands of clinicians using systems we have delivered who are quietly getting on with it.”

Bacon asked the CfH chief executive if he was incentivised on the speed of the work – a question that clearly incensed Granger who asked whether his motives for pushing the work through on time were being impugned. He then made it clear he was not incentivised to complete the procurement quickly.

He pointed out that three medical practitioners from the original team – Drs Mike Bainbridge, Ian Arrowsmith and Steve Bentley – had stayed the course.


A recording of the hearing can be accessed on Parliament Live TV until 7 July