A project to implement a new IT system at Scotland’s NHS 24 is now £41.6 million over budget and more than two years behind schedule, according to a report by the Auditor General for Scotland.

The cost of upgrading NHS 24’s core telephone and online technology as part of a 'Future Programme' is now estimated at £117.4 million, more than 55% higher than the original estimate of £75.8 million.

The inflated cost is primarily due to delays in implementing the new system at NHS 24, which provides online and telephone-based health information and advice to the public in Scotland.

The new technologies were meant to be rolled out in June 2013, but a series of failures has meant implementation has been pushed back until the end of this month.

When the Future Programme was first announced in 2009, NHS 24 expected the new technology to generate savings of £10 million over the ten-year contract period from 2013 to 2023.

According to the Auditor General’s report, NHS 24 is now at risk of failing to meet its financial targets in future years. 

Health secretary Shona Robison said the Scottish government has been working closely with NHS 24 to bring the Future Programme “back on track”.

“NHS 24 have fully acknowledged that there were clear weaknesses in their management and governance of the contract with the IT supplier and, under the leadership of a new team, have learned the lessons and taken steps to rectify this.

“We are pleased to see that this new system, which will deliver an improved service for patients, is due to go live at the end of October.”

Back in 2011, NHS 24 selected two companies to deliver the Future Programme: Capgemini to deliver clinical and patient handling applications and ongoing support and BT to provide the hardware and infrastructure.

However, the system's failure to meet critical patient safety performance measures meant that NHS 24 pushed back implementation of the new system from June 2013 to October 2013 and then indefinitely.

Capgemini and NHS 24 then got into a contract dispute that further delayed the upgrade and almost saw the contract terminated completely.

This led to NHS 24 and Capgemini entering a mediation process that saw a new agreement signed in June 2015, which resolved outstanding issues between the two parties; allowing the project to progress.

According to the Auditor General’s report, during the delay “NHS 24 has maintained current IT systems in a safe and reliable manner so that services for patients are not affected."

NHS 24 has also come under fire in recent months for its governance of the Scottish Centre for Telehealth and Telecare, which a PricewaterhouseCoopers report described as “largely absent in an effective manner since 2012."

In a separate report published last week, the Auditor General for Scotland said that Scottish health board NHS Tayside is reliant on loans from the Scottish government due to serious overspending and now needs to make £27 million in savings in 2015-16.

Robison commented: “The Scottish Government takes the publication of reports from the Auditor General for Scotland very seriously. We welcome the additional level of oversight and scrutiny, in addition to our own, and continue to work with the health boards concerned to address the issues raised.”