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NHS: back to quill pens and ledgers?

Picture of quill pen.Lord Warner announced last week that NHS Connecting for Health’s National Programme for IT (NPfIT) was likely to cost closer to £20bn than the much-quoted £6.2bn. This has brought out the emotive in journalists and the hoped for response from some members of the Public.

For an example, look at this article in the UK’s Daily Mail and the comments that follow it.

Even consultants are taxpayers: I also want to see my money spent wisely. But I wish someone would assess the NPfIT in a rational, knowledgeable and even-handed way that looks at options and benefits, rather than quoting a meaningless gross cost.

It would be easy to think it was an option to run a 21-century health service with an army of clerks with quill pens and ledgers and to overlook that approach also needs money for equipment and training. In fact, the NHS already spends more than £1bn a year on IT and for that we get:

  • GP IT systems that are unable to transfer records, even to a system from the same supplier two miles up the road;

  • Hospitals that are unable to tell concerned relatives on which ward their loved ones are, because there is no real-time bed management;

  • Systems unable to correlate clinical, financial and activity information to help better management and the public to decide if it is getting value for money; and

  • A healthcare system that gives inappropriate treatment to ten percent of its inpatients.

To help put that lot (and more) right means major change, and, yes, we are going to have to invest.

The UK is waiting for an imminent (and long-delayed) report from its National Audit Office (NAO) on NPfIT and for the appearance of NHS Connecting for Health’s senior management before a Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee on 26 June 2006. Let’s hope both give us a more balanced and rational assessment.

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