Opposition politicians have renewed their condemnation of the National Programme for IT in the NHS following press reports that the programme is “grinding to a halt.”
Conservative shadow health spokesman Stephen O’Brien said the reports confirmed that, with the “hugely expensive” programme “desperately behind schedule” suppliers were “deserting in droves” and “frontline professionals” were “voting with their feet and insisting on local solutions.”
Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb issued a statement saying that the “centralised project” had been “a shambles from the start” and it was “time for a re-think on how to proceed.”
The latest round of political attacks on the national programme follow the publication of an article in the Financial Times, arguing that progress on one aspect of the £12 billion project, the deployment of “strategic” care records systems, has stalled.
The article reviewed a number of recent stories that suggest this and questioned whether the programme would ever be completed.
It noted that the contractor originally hired to build the patient record system for the whole of the south of England, Fujitsu, was fired in May and that BT, one of the two key remaining contractors, has been unable to agree a price for taking over the work it began.
It noted that hospitals that have taken the London Release 1 version of Cerner’s Millennium care record service are experiencing problems with it and that further deployments that were scheduled for this year are showing no sign of going ahead.
And it noted that although health ministers promised that the much-delayed first installation of iSoft’s Lorenzo care record system would take place in Morecambe Bay this summer, the system has not gone live and neither the trust nor NHS Connecting for Health can give a date for go-live.
Jon Hoeksma, editor of E-Health Insider, was quoted as saying that while other parts of the programme continue to make progress, “this key part seems to be simply stuck. It has ground to a halt.”
Other national papers picked up the story, prompting an apparent admission that in London at least further deployments have been put on hold indefinitely.
The Daily Telegraph quoted a spokesman for NHS London as saying: "Because of the general problems, and in particular the problems at the Royal Free, we have decided to stop any further roll out in other London trusts until these have been sorted out. The important thing is to get this right."
The Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust deployed a Cerner Millennium system earlier this year. Although it initially insisted there had been no problems beyond what might have been anticipated by such a major installation, board papers have indicated the deployment was “extremely challenging."
Conservative Party leader David Cameron said earlier this year that he would “scrap the NHS super-computer.” However, in an interview with EHI ahead of his keynote appearance at this week’s Healthcare Interoperability event in Birmingham, Mr O’Brien indicated that Tory thinking has moved on to what should replace it.
Mr O’Brien pointed out that the party has commissioned an independent review of NHS IT, led by Dr Glyn Hayes. He also indicated that, in future, there would be far more focus on local systems, built and linked by standards. “Interoperability is the key to achieving those links. That is our first principle,” he said.
A spokesman for CfH told newspapers the problems did not indicate that the introduction of computerised care records had ground to a halt. He said: "Many elements of the national programme are advancing and some are complete.
"The programme is one of the largest IT change programmes in the world and it is inevitable that such transformation will present challenges. We are working with the NHS and our suppliers to ensure that systems are implemented as smoothly as possible.
"It is clear that patients and clinicians are now beginning to see the potential benefits these systems bring to improve patient care."
Hear Stephen O’Brien in person at Healthcare Interoperability