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National Programme for IT

26th March 2006

06032006_NPfITQ1.jpgWith the plethora of news surrounding Nigel Crisp's departure and the state of NHS finances, it seemed the NHS national IT programme, Connecting for Health, was being given a welcome reprieve from the spotlight.

But it wasn't to last for long. This week, the £6.2 billion programme was yet again in the firing line as first the National Audit office and then a leading health economist and government advisor waded in with further bouts of criticism.

Firstly the National Audit Office confirmed that its long awaited report into the NHS National Programme for IT will criticise the failure to secure the support of the NHS end users, claiming the programme has "become a focus of dissension in the National Health Service on the part of GPs and consultants" and that Connecting For Health has failed "to take the people in the National Health Service with them.".

The report was originally due last summer but is now expected to be published in August 2006, twelve months behind schedule. By convention the report must be signed off by a government department but Connecting for Health are apparently disputing its accuracy. In a statement, however, Connecting for Health claimed to have "worked co-operatively with the NAO" and that the decision when to publish lay solely with the National Audit Office.

In a second attack, Professor Nick Bosanquet, professor of health policy at Imperial College, London, has called for "a radical rethink of the NHS IT programme, arguing that Connecting for Health does not reflect the current direction of health policy and fails to address the most pressing issues now facing the health service."

Speaking at the Healthcare Computing 2006 Conference, Professor Bosanquet, a leading health economist and advisor on public expenditure to the Commons Health Select Committee, called on Connecting for Health to urgently review its priorities or risk being stuck "addressing yesterday’s problems."

He argued that the current Connecting for Health programme addressed none of the main issues currently driving health policy such as practice based commissioning, payment by results, foundation trusts and independent treatment centres. He said “CfH seems to exist in an economic Garden of Eden, where they are spending £6.5 billion without any real purchase on the key economic issues for the NHS and that the programme was "conceived for a highly centralised NHS rather than the confederated healthcare system now being engineered."

Connecting for Health, he said, "risked being swept away by a torrent of health service reform...like a bridge where changes in water level are threatening to wash it away.

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