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Auditors cast doubt on benefits of DH flagship IT programme

Auditors have cast doubt on whether the benefits of the DH’s flagship IT programme will be realised despite the Government ramping up its commitment to many of the schemes connected to it.

An National Audit Office report found that costs of the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) - launched in 2002- outweighed the benefits for the two years up to March 2012, and added that for some programmes 98% of these benefits are yet to be realised.

The report comes as health secretary Jeremy Hunt has voiced his commitment to harnessing the power of technology in the NHS, expanding programmes such as Choose and Book, the Electronic Prescription Service and Summary Care Records which originally formed part of the National Programme for IT..

The DH forecasts that benefits - measured in terms of financial savings, efficiency savings and societal savings such as patients spending less time chasing referrals thanks to Choose and Book - will slightly exceed costs over the whole life of the systems; £10.7 bn compared with £9.8bn.

But the NAO report said that it was unclear as to whether the Government’s forecast would come true. It said: ‘At March 2011 and March 2012, total costs were significantly greater than total benefits. The Department forecasts that benefits will slightly exceed costs over the whole life of the systems.

‘There is, however, very considerable uncertainty around whether the forecast benefits will be realised, not least because the end-of-life dates for the various systems extend many years into the future, to 2024 in the case of the North, Midlands and East Programme for IT.’

The NAO found the actual costs for the programme at March 2012 were £7.3bn with an estimated benefit of £3.7bn. Similarly, the costs at March 2011 were £6.4bn and the estimated benefits only £2.7bn.

It said that many of the benefits estimated are contingent on the successful deployment of a set number of systems at a set time, when experience over the last ten years suggests this will be challenging to achieve, particularly in the case of the local care record systems.

It added that some £2.5bn - 26% of the total costs - are also forecast to rise after March 2012.

While there is greater certainty around future costs than benefits because contracts with suppliers have already been drawn up, the DH does no pay suppliers until trusts confirm the systems are working satisfactorily. So future costs are dependent on the extent of the successful deployment of systems.

The programme comprised of national infrastructure systems like NHSmail and the NHS Spine and national applications like Choose and Book and Summary Care Records, and local care records systems, and was broken up into its successive parts in 2011.

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