Vulture IT contractors bleed NHS dry

An expert in IT leadership has hit out at the government and the civil service’s cluelessness with IT, tracing back the £11 billion NHS IT debacle to Blair’s cultivation of outsourcing. 

The comments come on the back of a select committee report calling for the end of the centralised NHS IT project. It marks another shocking failure at every level. MPs agree that the National Programme, part of a wider £11.4 billion e-record scheme, desperately needs an urgent review. 

“The Department of Health is not going to achieve its original aim of a fully integrated care records system across the NHS,” said committee chair Margaret Hodgson MP.

“Trying to create a one-size-fits-all system in the NHS was a massive risk and has proven to be unworkable.”

Yet again, the government was paying way over the odds for services which did not work. BT is a culprit, leading to accusations of government officials having all the bargaining nous of a first-round Apprentice contestant. The report says the government is “clearly overpaying BT to implement systems,” and according to the Committee, it squeezed £9 million where the exact same systems had been purchased at other NHS organisations for £2 million. 

David Chan, director at the Centre for Information Leadership at City University, says the bloated and costly universal NHS IT system’s problem lies with departments tying themselves to contracts in the first place. 

“The problem goes back to the early 2000s when politically grandiose projects were needed,” he tells TechEye. “This was in the time of Blair where there was a climate in which it was important to show that money was being spent on large scale and important projects.”

As contracts were drawn up with abandon, vital IT skills left the civil service while contractors took advantage and exploited taxpayer money. “Due to outsourcing in the late nineties and early 2000s, there has been a lack of skills in procurement,” Chan says. “It will be necessary to start investing in civil service skills so that they can specify and manage contracts, without having to rely on external consultants.”

The scandalous behaviour of contractors mean that, even if a project was disastrous, it would cost the UK more money to cancel than to keep going. Chan says the government must face the reaper: it can scrap expensive projects that simply won’t work, but in doing so haemorrhage money, or it can bite the bullet, change policy, and move on. 

A possible answer lies in implementing interchange standards between systems, so that information can be exchanged rather than relying on a single central database. 

“Ultimately, if the comments made on the NHS IT system lead to the government thinking more carefully about locking themselves into contracts, it will be a good thing.”