Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley has said he believes it will be possible to abandon the existing local service provider contracts that are part of The National Programme for IT in the NHS.
In an exclusive contribution to E-Health Insider’s look ahead to 2010, Lansley said: "It is time for the government to abandon the flawed local service provider contracts” that were awarded to CSC and BT to implement electronic patient records across the country.
He added: “Whilst the contracts remain shrouded in ‘commercial confidentiality’, we suspect that it would now be possible to abandon them without penalties in either direction, because the costs of fulfilling the contracts to the companies would exceed the value of the contracts to them.”
The Conservative Party significantly developed its policy on NHS IT over the course of 2009. Early in the year, party leader David Cameron was still calling for the "NHS supercomputer" to be scrapped.
Following the publication of the Independent Review of Health and Social Care IT that the party commissioned from Dr Glyn Hayes, it adopted a more nuanced position.
In its response, the party pledged to abolish much of NPfIT’s central architecture, including the national database of electronic patient records, in favour of more localised systems.
It also promised to “halt and renegotiate the contracts Labour have signed for IT service providers to prevent further inefficiencies.”
In his latest comments, Lansley goes further, saying it should be possible to "deliver up to £4 billion, unspent under those contracts, for support for front-line IT and other services in the NHS.”
However, there is widespread concern that an incoming Tory government could become embroiled in legal disputes with BT and CSC if it follows this course. The government has been locked in legal dispute with Fujitsu since terminating its LSP contract in April 2008.
Asked in July about the cost of re-negotiating the LSP deals, Conservative health spokesman Stephen O’Brien said he was giving the firms advance notice of a future Conservative government’s intentions and that he hoped to work with them.
But he also acknowledged that getting out of the deals was unlikely to be cost free.
Lansley also told EHI the Conservatives "want to see hospitals choosing their own software within a framework of interoperability, innovating locally to deliver IT solutions tailored to the needs and wishes of their community."
EHI interviewed 20 politicians, policy makers, IT suppliers and NHS IT managers for its look ahead to 2010. The minister with responsibility for NHS IT, Mike O’Brien, made a robust defence of the national programme.
"The Luddites on IT may well pretend the project is going to hell in a hand-basket and that somehow the NHS can survive disconnected, but political realists know the vision of a connected NHS is essential to its future," he said.
O’Brien also said delivery would "pick up pace" in 2010. However, Liberal Democrat shadow health secretary Norman Lamb urged the minister to provide "clarity" on where the £600m of cuts identified for the programme in the Pre-Budget Report were going to fall.
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