NHS chief executive
David Nicholson

NHS chief executive David Nicholson has continued to take a hands-on role in the multi-billion pound NHS IT programme, flying to India to meet one of the companies developing its key electronic patient record software.

Last November, Nicholson accompanied the new chief information officer for health, Christine Connelly, on a visit to Chennai, to personally check on the progress of the late-running Lorenzo software.

Initial versions of Lorenzo are running at two NHS sites, but more advanced versions – to be delivered in a series of releases – are now due to be installed across three fifths of England by 2014.

Lorenzo developer iSoft, which has been owned by IBA Health since November 2007, is the main strategic software sub-contractor to NHS Connecting for Health prime contractor Computer Sciences Corporation. The US technology services firm has contracts to upgrade NHS IT systems in the North, Midlands and East of England.

A CfH spokesperson told E-Health Insider: “NHS chief executive David Nicholson and CIO for health Christine Connelly visited Chennai in November 2008. They met with officials from CSC and iSoft, which is owned by IBA, to check on progress with Lorenzo.”

The spokesperson explained that Connelly, who took up post at the end of September, “needed to see first hand the progress on building software for releases of Lorenzo.”

They added that information systems in the acute sector form “a key element of delivering the electronic patient record” so Connelly “needs to be in a position to advise on progress and delivery for NHS trusts.”

In December, following his visit to Chennai, Nicholson told the House of Commons Health Committee that the challenges facing the national programme remain formidable and that it is now at a “pivotal position”.

Nicholson told the Committee that the software needed to deliver integrated shared electronic records, and enable the policy objectives of the Next Stage Review to be achieved, was not yet available from either iSoft or Cerner.

Explaining why the NHS chief executive had made time for the long trip, the spokesperson said: “David Nicholson sought to explore the scope and progress of building software for releases of Lorenzo. David was keen to reinforce with both the suppliers and the NHS how important this programme is for improving patient care.”

The DH said neither Nicholson or Connelly have travelled to the US to meet with Cerner or any other strategic supplier. Sir Bruce Keogh, during the time he was acting director general for informatics, did visit Cerner in the USA in March 2008.

At least two official reviews of the Lorenzo product development have previously been carried out. In its January report on the National Programme for IT in the NHS, the Commons Public Accounts Committee criticised the DH for entering into confidentiality agreements with CSC on these reviews of the delivery arrangements for Lorenzo.