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Government urged to scrap electronic care records scheme

Major doubts have emerged over the future of the electronic care records scheme after a scathing parliamentary report called for the Government to 'urgently review' the multi billion-pound scheme.

A report published today by the Public Accounts Committee has casts serious doubt on £6.4 billion spent by the Department of Health on creating an electronic care record, under the National Programme for IT in the NHS.

The programme was launched in 2002, and was designed to create a uniform system with an electronic record for all NHS patients in England and was expected to cost £7 billion in total.

However, the committee found the Department of Health was no longer delivering a uniform programme, had fallen behind schedule and had allowed costs to soar.

It also said that the department was unable to demonstrate that the system had benefited patients or that it would be able to meet its original aims, and singled out NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson for stinging criticism, saying he has 'not been able to
fulfil his duties as the senior responsible owner for the orogramme effectively.'

Margaret Hodge a Labour MP and chair of the committee, said:  ‘The Department of Health is not going to achieve its original aim of a fully integrated care records system across the NHS. Trying to create a one-size-fits-all system in the NHS was a massive risk and has proven to be unworkable.'

‘The Department has been unable to demonstrate what benefits have been delivered from the £2.7 billion spent on the project so far.'

‘It should now urgently review whether it is worth continuing with the remaining elements of the care records system. The £4.3 billion which the Department expects to spend might be better used to buy systems that are proven to work, that are good value for money and which deliver demonstrable benefits to the NHS.'

In response, ministers admitted that the current IT programme had structural ‘weaknesses' and that new plans to modernise IT in the NHS were in discussion.

A DH spokesperson said: ‘The Government recognises the weaknesses of a top-down, centrally-imposed IT system. Although elements of the programme have been delivered successfully, the policy approach previously taken has failed to engage the NHS sufficiently.

'The findings of the Public Accounts Committee, alongside the outcome of the Major Project Review Authority, will contribute to the planning currently underway for future informatics support to the modernised NHS.'

Media reports also emerged today speculating that next month's Government strategy for IT in the NHS will abandon any attempt to link up the NHS in a central system, in favour of a local approach allowing health trusts and hospitals to develop or buy their own computer systems .

Health secretary Andrew Lansley said: ‘This is yet more evidence that Labour's botched approach to IT in the NHS failed taxpayers and failed patients. Their one-size-fits-all IT programme has once again been found unworkable.  We are making sure that systems are not imposed on the NHS from the centre which organisations do not want.''

However, a Labour Party spokesperson said:  ‘Labour set out plans to deliver up to £20 billion of efficiencies in the NHS, with every pound reinvested in frontline care.'

‘The Government are spending £2 billion on their reckless NHS reorganisation, creating a massive new national quango and an NHS with three times the number of public bodies, while wasting precious money that should be spent on patient care.'

Read the report by the Public Accouts Committeet: The National Programme for IT in the NHS - an update on the delivery of detailed care records systems