One of the first clinical leads for the National Programme for IT in the NHS has said that the programme has failed becaue of a lack of involvement with clinicians from the outset.

Professor Aidan Halligan was appointed to NPfIT in March 2004 as director general for benefits realisation, and given the responsibility for communicating the aims and development of the programme to NHS staff.

Speaking at the Informatics Congress 2010 this morning, he said: “People underestimated the power of culture. Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

“There is a huge number of doctors and nurses and they are the people that run our health service. We did not engage with frontline staff. We didn’t think about what people on the frontline could tell us about the systems they wanted and needed.”

In Birmingham, Halligan also said that if was appointed to role again he would make sure that NHS IT was more localised.

He said: “Unless you start from the bottom up this time, then it will not work and this time it needs to work. The first thing that I would do is focus on leadership, the second thing that I would do is focus on leadership and the third thing that I would do is leadership.”

In response to a question from a member of the audience, who works for NHS North West, and who half-jokingly asked whether there could ever be “any redemption” for working on NPfIT, Halligan said “yes.”

“You just need to forgive yourself," he said. "The numbers of people that have worked on the programme over the years have done remarkable work and they are still doing it.

"Your time will come because in a few years the need for such systems is really going to rise.”

Halligan also said “bring on the recession”, arguing the NHS has had too much money in the past decade. "There will be more change in healthcare in the next five years than in the last 10 and IT can be at the heart of it.”

Gwyn Thomas, chief executive of Informing Healthcare and CIO of the Welsh Assembly, who was speaking alongside Halligan added: “Don’t undervalue what you’ve done and just keep the faith. If it had been an easy task, somewhere someone would have done it.”