During BBC1′s Andrew Marr show on Sunday, Alistair Darling announced that he was going to cut the National Programme for IT because it was ‘not essential for the front line’.
The National Programme for IT (NPfIT) has been branded the largest IT Programme in the world and judging by the Chancellor’s words, it could soon be labelled the most disastrous.
It is more than four years overdue with only 5 full hospital implementations to show for its £3 billion worth of spending to date. Its total budget is estimated to be over £12.7 billion.
But on Tuesday, Andy Burnham assured the House that the Programme is ‘already making the NHS safer, more efficient and more convenient for patients’.
The Government cannot make its mind up about whether this multi-billion pound programme can deliver real benefits to NHS patients. To say it is ‘not essential for the frontline’ is to contradict repeatedly declared Government policy and statements made by successive Ministers over the past five years.
This begs a serious question: will the Government’s threat to scrap the Programme in its entirety put patients at risk? Either the Programme has wasted billions on unnecessary IT – as the Chancellor suggests – or it is vital to patient care and safety – as Andy Burnham asserts.
One of the NPfIT’s many aims is to provide an electronic medical record for every NHS patient in England that can track each patient’s care through the health service and record the treatment they receive.
Conservatives believe electronic medical records are essential to the delivery of high quality and efficient healthcare. But a top-down, centralised IT Programme is never going to support care that is tailored to the needs of individual patients. Neither does it offer value for money to the taxpayer.
We want local NHS Trusts to have a choice of Electronic Patient Record systems within a framework of open standards so that local NHS services can meet the needs of local patients whilst being able to link up with the rest of the NHS.
Our pledge for central Government not to sign large uncompetitive IT contracts will end Labour’s habit of making the public pay for the design and development of costly IT systems. We will open up the market so that competition and innovation can flourish from the grass roots.
Current spending on the programme is in danger of spiralling out of control. Budgets have grown by over half a billion over the last year and the Department is embroiled in a £700 million legal battle of their own making with axed IT supplier, Fujitsu.
Now the Treasury is demanding £500 million of cuts which, contrary to the Chancellor’s intimation of significant savings, constitutes under 5 per cent of the Programme’s overall budget.
Decisive action needs to be taken to get NHS IT back into shape. If the Programme’s strategy is not transformed from top-down to bottom-up then no amount of cuts are going to produce better care for patients and long-term savings for taxpayers.
The Conservatives are committed to a localised vision of IT in the NHS so that we can use IT to achieve the best of both worlds – more benefits for patients and more savings for the taxpayer.