A report on the now-defunct online NHS university (NHSu) says that the £72m spent on the project would have exposed the Department of Health (DH) to ‘significant embarrassment’ if the value-for-money it delivered had been probed.

The report has been released under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, but so far no electronic copy has appeared on the Department of Health’s website. Nurse educator and health informatician, Rod Ward, who lodged an FOI request for the report, received a hard copy today.

As reported last week by E-Health Insider, the DH initially refused access to the report and appealed against the Information Commissioner’s decision last November that it should be released. The department finally dropped the appeal before the case was due to go to an Information Tribunal on 4 April.

Ward’s blog records highlights of the report and his comments on it.

He writes: “It paints a damning picture of an organisation lacking in clarity of purpose, and failing to engage with stakeholders while managing to spend £72m of taxpayers’ money.”

Ward says the report starts by setting out the original concept behind the NHSu, but even on page one criticises the lack of clarity about where the NHSu fitted into the "already crowded healthcare education and training sector" and what its role should be.

The report includes critical observations about:

• The NHSu’s “disproportionately large" number (30%) of staff involved in corporate services;

• A lack of focus on systems and structure;

• Frequent changes of structure and individual roles.

But Ward believes it was the report’s warning of the DH’s likely embarrassment in any investigation of value-for-money that led to such lengthy efforts to keep it under wraps.

“I suspect this might be the reason that the report has taken so long to see the light of day – but I hope that now it has, it will be used to inform future decisions and avoid making the same mistakes again,” he said.