Dept of Health failing to learn from past mistakes

The NHS’s IT £12bn programme to create an electronic patient record is a prime example of Whitehall failing to learn from past mistakes, the National Audit Office warns.

So are the computerisation of the Child Support Agency, a grant scheme for farmers, and the cancellation of an asylum centre.

There are plenty of examples of departments learning from mistakes others have made, the NAO said, but Whitehall is still not good enough at learning lessons from previous policy and implementation errors.

The NHS programme spectacularly failed to engage staff. Other programmes were trialled, or implemented at a time when other big changes to the business were under way. Yet all these, and other, mistakes have been made before, the NAO argues in a report on helping labour government to learn.

Examples where lessons have been learnt are the better handling of the foot and mouth outbreak in 2007 compared with 2001; early appreciation by the Treasury that refinancing rules for private finance initiative projects needed to be changed as a result of the financial crisis; and a £2bn programme to roll out Jobcentre Plus came in under budget and on time because officials drew on lessons from big projects that had gone wrong.

“There has been a proliferation of toolkits, guidance and other products to help government learn,” the NAO said.

But with a risk of “guidance overload”, civil servants need to be given more time to learn what makes projects work and go wrong, and that needs to be built in to day-to-day practice.

Without that, “failures will continue to happen” producing “avoidable waste, inefficient practices and ineffective services”.


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