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BMA attacks plans to scale back NHS IT programme

By Steve Nowottny

The BMA has attacked plans to significantly scale back the £12bn National Programme for IT, arguing that cutbacks will ‘waste money' and could impact on patient care.

The chancellor Alistair Darling announced yesterday that parts of the controversial scheme would be shelved in Wednesday's pre-Budget Report, as the Treasury looks for savings to help reduce the budget deficit.

He told the BBC: ‘The NHS has had a quite expensive IT system that, frankly, isn't essential to the front line.'

‘It's something I think we don't need to go ahead with just now.'

It remains unclear exactly which parts of the national programme will be affected.

But Dr Grant Ingrams, chair of the GPC's IT subcommittee, criticised the decision, arguing that savings would be better made elsewhere in the NHS.

‘I think it's short-sighted – I think it's going to waste money,' he said. ‘The way it was procured years ago was wrong, and could have been done better – but now it's getting to a point where it's likely to be rolled out very soon.'

‘The important thing is that clinicians have the tools to do the job and to be able to provide patient care safely. There are many other parts of the NHS where money is wasted – where it's wasted on PFI type contracts, where its wasted on having commercialisation, where it's wasted building in redundancy, building in multiple providers where you have to spare capacity all over the place in order to make it work. That is money that is wasted.'

‘The IT project should in the long term improve efficiency, improve effectiveness of healthcare, reduce errors and improve patient safety.

The troubled NHS IT programme has been dogged by delays and rising costs, but the national deployment of the Summary Care Record took a leap forward last month when it was announced that six million patients across London will be given the chance to opt out of having a record created for them in the New Year.

Conservative shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley welcomed what he described as 'Labour's U-turn'.

'After seven years Labour have finally acknowledged what we've said for years, that the procurement for NHS IT was costing billions and not delivering,' he said. 'The opportunity cost to the NHS also measures billions of pounds.'

'This is another government IT procurement disaster - it just shows you can't trust Labour on spending efficiency.'

Dr Grant Ingrams Dr Grant Ingrams

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