Christine Connelly yesterday lost her cool over criticism that cancelling the Microsoft Enterprise-wide Agreement has left trusts having to pick up big bills.

Taking questions after an assured presentation at HC2011 yesterday, the Department of Health’s director general of informatics snapped when a member of the audience said her trust had been left with a shortfall of 400 licences after the deal was cancelled.

Monique Duffy, assistant director of IM&T, planning and development at Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said it was facing cuts in its IT budget and could ill afford the extra cost, which she later told eHealth Insider ran into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Connelly, however, forcefully rejected the complaint, saying the Microsoft deal was cancelled because trusts weren’t using the licences it paid for and that they had been asked to provide an accurate count of the licences they needed when it was canned.

“No, there was a central allocation of licenses. You were asked how many licenses you had," she said.

The DH announced last July that it would not renew its half billion software licensing deal with Microsoft. The deal was initially signed 12 years earlier, and gave trusts access to common server and desktop licenses.

Connelly said that trusts had been asked how many licences they used and needed, before a decision on renewing the EwA was taken, and that it was only after the deal had been cancelled that they revised up their estimates by around 20%.

Duffy held her ground and said this was not the case. She also said her trust had been forced to pay for the shortfall.

A clearly irritated Connelly revealed that she regularly takes flak for cancelling the Microsoft deal.

“It makes me angry. I’m told almost every day by NHS chief executives and IT directors that they now have to pay for licences and it just not true.”

She explained that all the licences purchased under the EwA are perpetual ones, and that in the case of desktop software they cover up to Microsoft Office 2010 and Windows 7, which very few parts of the NHS are actually using yet.

“I sincerely hope that people are not buying more Microsoft licenses for stuff we’ve already bought," she said.

The calmer but still prickly Connelly want on to add: “You can’t run on software five to six years old and expect us to pay for licenses you don’t use.”

The head of NHS IT subsequently apologised for losing her cool, explaining it was an issue she felt strongly about.

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.