The cost of NHS 24’s new computer system has risen dramatically, according to an Auditor General for Scotland report that says it is now unlikely to go-live until October next year.

A report from the financial watchdog, issued last month, says NHS 24 started working on a ‘Future Programme’ in 2009 that included new technology to improve its telephone and online services and cut costs.

NHS 24 initially planned to implement the Future Programme in September 2013, but has delayed this because “it considers that the new application currently developed by the external supplier does not meet its patient safety requirements.”

The Auditor General’s report adds that “NHS 24 is currently in dispute with the supplier in relation to the performance and functionality of the application and related contractual matters.”

While this goes on, the board has estimated that the “earliest potential date for developing and testing an alternative solution, and implementing a new solution, is October 2015.”

The delay has “led to additional costs and risks”, the report adds, saying that: “The total cost of the Future Programme to date is £38m; considerably more than the original business case of £29.6m.”

It also says that a further £14.6m is likely to be needed to “achieve and implement an acceptable solution and: “This will take the total cost to at least £52.6m; £23m over the original business case.”

The Scottish Government has provided financial support to NHS 24 to get it through the problems, but this will have to be repaid. NHS 24 has drawn up a five year plan to take this into account.

The Auditor General’s report refrains from commenting on now NHS 24 has managed the contract, because of the legal dispute with the contractor – which is not named.

However, the watchdog will make a further report to the Scottish Parliament in 2015, when this is concluded.

EHI reported in April that NHS 24 had delayed the implementation of a patient contract and triage management system “indefinitely”, just weeks before going live with the NHS 111 non-emergency number.

The move from the old 0845 service to NHS 111 still went ahead. NHS 24 was launched a decade ago, as the equivalent to the English NHS Direct service. It employs around 700 staff in four major call centres and handles around 1.5m calls a year.

In a statement issued to Scottish media in response to the report, NHS 24 chief executive John Turner said: "NHS 24 is developing a programme to update our technology systems for the future.

“We are disappointed the system has not been implemented yet, but we will only deploy it when it is safe to do so.

"We would like to reassure the public that our current systems are working extremely well across Scotland. People should not hesitate to contact NHS 24 if they need to make use of our services."