Coalition blames NHS IT failure on ‘top-down’ approach

By Alex Stevenson

A £2.7 billion attempt to create a one-size-fits-all IT system across the NHS for care records has proved fundamentally "unworkable", according to an influential Commons committee.

The public accounts committee said the Department of Health would not achieve its original aim of setting up a care records system across the health service.

Its report called on the government to consider spending the extra £4.3 billion yet to be spent on "systems that are proven to work".

"It is unclear to us how the wider health reforms and NHS restructuring will affect the future management and governance of the care records system," committee chair Margaret Hodge said.

"The NHS trusts who will take on the risks have no contractual relationship with existing suppliers and no information about potential future costs."

Ministers have sought to distance themselves from the New Labour-era project by pointing out that the coalition has already cut spending on the NHS IT programme by £1.4 billion.

"The government recognises the weaknesses of a top-down, centrally-imposed IT system," a DoH spokesperson said.

"Although elements of the programme have been delivered successfully, the policy approach previously taken has failed to engage the NHS sufficiently."

The care records programme forms part of the broader national programme for IT in the NHS, launched in 2002, which has spent £6.4 billion so far.

Originally ministers had hoped to give every NHS patient an individual electronic care record which could be accessed across the NHS.

This has proved beyond the capacity of the DoH, which is now hoping that individual NHS trusts develop systems which are compatible with those of the national programme.

The report noted: "The committee is very concerned that the department could not tell us how potential inconsistencies would be dealt with or what it will cost local NHS organisations to connect up."