The general election

Policy and healthcare IT experts have urged an incoming government to resist the temptation to shake up the NHS and radically reorganise its IT.

Asked to put forward manifesto ideas for the general election that is likely to be called after the Easter break, commentators from think tanks, analysts and the health service needed structural stability to cope with the quality and efficiency demands being made on it.

They also said the working parts of the National Programme for IT in the NHS should be retained, although trusts should be given more responsibility for their IT systems, working within a national framework of standards.

There was a remarkable degree of consensus about what the parties should promise to do in the general election, which is expected on 6 May. E-Health Insider would like to know what readers’ priorities would be.

Brian Derry, chair of the BCS ASSIST national council, hoped that the election would not trigger an outbreak of Punch and Judy politics over the NHS, which would distract from the real decision that need to be taken.

Cornelia Wels-Maug and Mike Davis from Ovum said an incoming government should resist the temptation to re-organise the health service yet again, since this would distract NHS staff – including informatics staff – from the job of delivering better and more effective care.

Julia Manning, chief executive of centre right think tank,, which recently published a ‘rescue plan’ for NHS IT, said the next government should identify and develop the parts of the national programme that viable for the future, including the N3 network.

But she said there should be a “radical reorientation and downsizing of the central NHS IT organisation” to make it more transparent and accountable to the NHS, and that trusts should be given more control.

Similarly, Murray Bywater, director of Silicon Bridge: “The successful infrastructure components need to be nailed down and sunset the rest.”

Other contributors called for investment in specific areas of healthcare IT, particularly telecare and services to support people with long term conditions.

The government confirmed in its Budget last week that it will be looking to make efficiency savings of up to £20 billion by 2013-14 from the NHS, with significant sums to come from improving productivity, the management of long-term conditions, commissioning and procurement.

Contributors were concerned that while efficiency savings need to be made, IT should not be first in the firing line.

Derry said: “Short term cuts and vacancy freezes could cause significant clinical and efficiency risks. Investment opens the door to the innovative use of technology and information to improve services.”

Opinion and analysis:

Read all the contributions in our feature, It’s Party Time.


E-Health Insider would like to hear what readers would like to see in the party manifestos. What should they commit the health service to delivering, and how should IT be organised to support it? Are there any specific technologies that politicians should be supporting – and the electorate demanding? What daft ideas should the politicians avoid? Add comments below, or email the news team.