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Thursday, September 07, 2006

National Audit Office pledges new report on NHS IT project

The National Audit Office (NAO) is to publish a new report into the UK's largest IT investment, the £12.4bn National Programme for IT in the NHS. Its decision follows criticism by MPs of the Audit Office's June 2006 report on the NHS programme. Greg Clark, a member of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, said the June report was "the most gushing" of all NAO reports he had read. Another member of the Public Accounts Committee, Richard Bacon, said the NAO's report on the NPfIT was not up to the organisation's usual high standards.

The NAO's value for money reports on IT projects are usually one-offs. So its decision to produce two reports on the NPfIT is an unusual step.

Since the publication of the NAO's report on the National Programme, several developments have worried IT managers and some executives on the boards of NHS trusts across England:
* A loss of £382m at iSoft, the main software supplier to the programme. The company is also the subject of an investigation by the Financial Services Authority.
* The crash of a datacentre which interrupted NPfIT services in some cases for several days. Some IT managers and executives on boards of NHS trusts are now unsure whether they want to rely on national services for critical clinical systems such as medical records and e-prescriptions.
* Persistent suggestions that Accenture, the NPfIT's supplier in the east of England, might have withdrawn from supplying most major hospitals. Accenture, which operates between the borders of Scotland and the edge of London, has declined to comment.
* Independent surveys by Nursix and Ipsos Mori which indicate that support for the way the programme is being implemented may be waning among some groups of NHS staff.

Clark said that in the light of recent events the published NAO report "raises more questions than it answers". He added his committee would hold a new hearing on the NPfIT, based on a new NAO report. He expected the hearing to occur next year.

In its June report the NAO said it "may return to carry out a further examination at a later date should this appear necessary". But last week its spokesman told Computer Weekly that the NAO had decided to publish a new report, though no date has been set.

Why a new report is needed- on August 21, 2006 in Labour conceals NHS criticism by NAO of NPfIT we found that Labour faces allegations of trying to undermine the independence of the National Audit Office after it successfully toned down the findings of an inquiry into the £12 billion NHS computer system. Documents released last week show how key passages in the NAO report were changed after interventions by Department of Health officials. These included removing warnings about the difficulties of creating computerised records for every patient in the country.

The NAO's report, published in June, was replete with praise for Connecting for Health, the agency running the National Programme for IT in the NHS.

But its tone was in marked contrast to two draft reports seen by Health Direct. The drafts had been through a six-month "clearance" process which allowed Connecting for Health to refuse to sign off a report if it disagreed with its factual content.

The final report omitted some of the most serious criticisms of the programme. It did not mention the effect on NHS trusts of software delays.


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