‘System failure’ – £11 billion NHS IT system finally abandoned, but not before slamming a high bill on taxpayers
Aug 2011 03

Once again central government has come under fire because of one of its costly and failing IT programmes. Unsurprisingly, a report published today by the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) heavily criticised the expensive 11.4 billion ‘National Programme for IT in the NHS’ (NPfIT). They’ve said that £2.7 billion of taxpayers’ cash has been wasted by the programme, as the Department of Health has very little to show for that huge amount of cash.

The report highlighted a number of failings in both the management and implementation of the system, including the inability of the Government to ensure it was getting the best contractual deals from suppliers such as BT. As the Committee notes, “BT is paid £9 million to implement systems at each NHS site, even though the same systems have been purchased for under £2 million by NHS organisations outside the Programme”, clearly underlining the Department’s poor management and inability to provide taxpayers with value for money.

Launched in 2002 by the Department of Health, the central aim of the programme was to develop an all-encompassing e-records system to make accurate patient records available to NHS staff at all times. But the project has courted controversy at every stage from its inception. Data management issues, patient confidentiality problems, numerous missed deadlines; NPfIT has it all, completely undermining its goal of increased efficiency. It has been dubbed the super-computer but there’s nothing super about it: the project takes every single failing of past IT projects – of which there have been many – and rolls them into one giant failure.

The inclination of the NHS to centralise everything has cost taxpayers dear. Richard Bacon MP, a member of the Public Accounts Committee, called it “one of the worst scandals in terms of wasting public money of my ten years on the Committee”. A scandal is right. We called for this project to be scrapped almost two years ago in our report with the Institute of Directors How to Save 50 Billion. Taxpayers’ money has already been poured down this black hole and the government have to put a stop to it, now. It seems the alternative is that local health trusts and hospitals will be allowed to develop or buy individual computer systems to suit their needs instead, but the haemorrhaging of cash must end.

And we need to remember NPfIT every single time the government – or any government in the future – comes up with a major IT project on the promise that it will magically make everything better, in exchange for a few billion from taxpayers.


  • Chris

    Completely foreseeable; having worked on this contract on bid work it was evident how ill-thought out this whole idea was; and yet most working on the bid felt great about the prospect of big pay cheques at the expense of the taxpayer. To continue with this project is merely to carry on making the same mistakes benefiting the few contracting parties at the expense of the taxpayer. Furthermore at £11.4bn expenditure it was approved without parliamentary debate. It is absolutely scandalous and a disgrace from its inception.

  • Mdesoulis

    I heard of people making a packet out of this.. dreadful mismanagement!!!!! How DARE they waste resources like this when staff are pushed to the limit!!!

  • Blarg1987

    Half the problem was that there was no one in the public sector who had the knowledge and experience of such a contract, now we could have people like this in house which, would cost pennies, but as this prokject has shown, it has cost us pounds.
    We need to change the whole system from one of management and politicians only having yes men who have had no experience in these fields to a system where managers have the experience to challange contracts like these saving tax payers money.
    Although these may mean people will not like the truth, it will mean things will get done.

  • B Cody999

    We have this frenzy over phone hacking into the non entities that pollute our airwaves and print media and yet two thousand seven hundred million pounds is stolen from the tax payer and yet the police and fraud investigators are not swarming all over the people responsible, why not?

  • http://profiles.google.com/jonathan21s Jonathan Stearn

    There was huge potential for saving money with a central computer system. The bureaucracy involved with lugging enormous volumes of notes for each patient from GP to clinic and clinic to clinic, county to county, (notes still not available for emergencies out of hours) I do hope proper evaluation happened before writing off the 11 billion we spent here. Are we now forking out  on yet more unlinked hardware on advice computer system companies..? Is there really nothing at all to show from the 11 billion..!?  A common universal system would have been fantastic.!! Believe me I worked in NHS..

  • B Cody999

    To be honest, someone with a zx80 would be able to solve this problem, but there would be no huge kick backs and consultancy fraud involved, welcome to corrupt britain

  • B Cody999

    Yes I am aware that by taking part in this forum T.P.A. gains more funds from opaque sources and is as much part of the system as all other so called public access “vent” outlets.

  • Andy Andmel

    why is it so hard to get these systems working, each patient has a number because computer’s only see number’s that’s, how they work. link all the computer’s on a mainframe and no matter where you   i.e  your number is, you are tracked, then attach information to each number about your personnel health, done. put it this way dvla know everthing about every motor vehicle registered, who insure’s it, it’s mot and who drive’s it, go through a spec’s speed camera to fast and you get an instant ticket through the post. but dvla’s computer doesn’t see ford’s and vauxhall’s it see’s number’s and it works very well for them. the trouble with the nhs system is the corruption from government and business and the job protection from the staff in the nhs. if it worked then you wouldn’t need half as many people walking around with file’s under their arms trying to look busy

  • DonG

    The problem is that the state wants to deliver everything including healthcare, which encourages people to NOT take responsibility for themselves, including their health.  The state should get our of our lives if we want that – I would like to choose which healthcare provider gets my NI contributions in return for healthcare, but I don’t have that choice.  I don’t even get tax relief on private health insurance if I opt out of state provision by paying for a policy myself. 

    I have no problem with the NHS principle of Free At The Point Of Use – I just don’t think the state needs to deliver healthcare for anyone.

  • DonG

    BT remains a bastion of  public sector inefficiency – despite being privatised over 25 years ago.  Why are they being awarded contracts when they are clearly still under-delivering?

    Many public sector organisations are also still OBSESSED with BT, they think their organisations are so big that they need a “partner” to take care of their telecoms, when all they really need is a supplier if the people looking after their telecoms has telecoms experience.  Instead their telecoms managers are largely recruited from within “following successful interview”, and they could have been in charge of the kitchens one month then promoted to telecoms the next.

    There are plenty of smaller, more responsive telecoms providers if only procurement departments didn’t get in the way.

  • tinamac

    hmrc “Real Time Information” online tax system will probably follow the same route. It is an ordeal submitting accounts online at the end of year at the moment – they intend to have the same thing every month starting 2012.

  • Dez

    If they only had stuck to the brief instead of being side tracked by hundreds of “can it do this”, “why don’t we add this while we are at it”
    requests. The actual users needs were ignored long ago taken over by the useless clueless suits who were shipped in to save the world…..NOT! And not one person will be held to account for this debacle as per the corrupt banking sector for their sins. I am sure a few knighthoods and gold plated early retirements will follow in the normal tradition of these useless Governments…and of course reward jobs from the I/T companies for services rendered!