Richard Bacon has renewed pressure on the Department of Health’s director general for informatics, Christine Connelly, to prove the value of the contracts signed as part of the National Programme for IT in the NHS.
The Conservative member of the Common’s Public Accounts Committee received a detailed, six-page response from Connelly in January that addressed some of his previous questions.
These related to the value of BT’s contract for supporting Cerner sites and installing RiO in the South of England and its revised local service provider contract for London, as well as a potential new deal for CSC in the North, Midlands and East.
However, Bacon says he feels Connelly did not “directly answer” whether she feels the programme is “best value for taxpayers’ money.”
His latest letter, sent to Connelly on Wednesday, also raises further concerns that appear to be linked to eHealth Insider reports on “serious under use of Lorenzo at NHS Bury” and “a failure to go-live with Lorenzo at Pennine Care NHS Trust”.
In her letter, Connelly says that ministers are “committed to creating an environment which encourages a vibrant supply market that provides choice of quality systems that meet common and demanding standards.”
But she notes they have to work within the constraints of “contractual arrangements made under the previous administration, the existing level of maturity of the supply market in health IT, and the reality that the structure of health provision in England will continue to change over time.”
Bacon asked the head of NHS IT to justify cutting just £112m from BT’s £1.1 billion contract for London, when the LSP will apparently have to provide half of what it was originally meant to deliver.
Connelly accepts that the number of acute trusts scheduled to receive Cerner Millennium in London has been reduced, that the number of RiO deployments has been cut by one, and that BT will no longer be expected to provide GP or an ambulance system.
However, she says “functional enhancements have been agreed” for Millennium, with trusts in London and the South given “access to the full scope of the Cerner product”. At the same time, she says a “highly configurable, more modular approach” has been implemented that will support change in the capital.
Turning to questions around the value of the contract held by CSC for delivering iSoft’s Lorenzo electronic patient record to the NME, she says that she regards the history of delivery of Lorenzo to date as “very unsatisfactory”.
“Because of this,” her letter continues, “we have been looking to achieve a more flexible approach to the delivery of the system… as well as securing the reduction in contract cost.”
Intriguingly, she says that Sir David Nicholson, chief executive of the NHS, is planning to meet the President of CSC to discuss the issue. However, she declines to comment further while negotiations are ongoing.
Connelly also declines to comment on how much RiO cost inside and outside the programme contracts and on the cost of the Cerner ‘greenfield’ deployments in the South, which are the subject of a National Audit Office inquiry triggered by Bacon.
Bacon’s letter says: “In my original letter, I asked specifically whether the contract renegotiations with BT and Cerner represented value for taxpayers’ money. I do not see any direct answer to that question, which seems absolutely fundamental.
“Unless the question can be answered clearly in the affirmative, I can see o justification for concluding further agreements with these companies, at least until after the NAO has reported and the PAC has had time to consider its findings.”
He urges Connelly not to agree any deal for the NME until this has happened. He also says they “certainly agree” that the delivery of Lorenzo has been “very unsatisfactory” and hopes the high-level meeting promised “does not simply result in further unreliable promises and consequent failures.”
Primary Health Info 2011 is an event organised by the BCS Primary Health Care Specialist Group to discuss IT to support GP consortia, to ‘connect all’ and to ‘liberate the NHS’.
The event at Chesford Grange in Warwickshire from 10-11 May includes a speaker-line up headed by Department of Health director general of informatics Christine Connelly, an exhibition supported by leading GP systems suppliers, and networking opportunities. For more information and to book a place, visit the conference website. EHI Primary Care is the media partner for this event.