Delays with £12.7bn NHS software program bring it close to collapse
Sunday 21 March 2010 18.47 GMT
The government's ailing £12.7bn IT programme to overhaul paper-based NHS patient records in England is close to imploding, potentially triggering a deluge of legal claims against the taxpayer running into billions of pounds, which could start to emerge weeks before a general election.
The Guardian has discovered that mounting chaos and delays in installing core care records systems across the country is reaching a tipping point, with intense political pressure from Whitehall now falling on Morecambe Bay NHS Trust and a software "go-live" deadline set for the end of this month.
Morecambe Bay is intended to be the first acute trust to take a new patient administration software package called Lorenzo, which has been delayed for four years. After a string of missed deadlines, the Department of Health set a deadline of March 2010 for Lorenzo last April. "If we don't see significant progress... then we will move to a new plan for delivering infomatics in healthcare," Christine Connelly, the Department of Health's director general of IT, said at the time.
A problem of leadership. As I mentioned here, Christine Connelly knows as much about "informatics" as I know about candy making.
She was previously Chief Information Officer at Cadbury Schweppes with direct control of all IT operations and projects. She also spent over 20 years at BP where her roles included Chief of Staff for Gas, Power and Renewables, and Head of IT for both the upstream and downstream business.
Candy experience? More than Willy Wonka. Experience producing gas? Plentiful. Medical informatics expertise? Not so much. Predecessors also lacked genuine medical informatics expertise. This lack of appropriate expertise is all too common in healthcare leadership, and no exception is made for healthcare IT.
Preparatory testing at Morecambe Bay is believed to have failed some weeks ago, though iSoft, the firm behind Lorenzo, last week insisted testing was "on track" and dismissed as "media speculation" suggestions that the deadline was in jeopardy.
Claiming everything is going just fine. This initiative has been a debacle from the start, partly due to it being rushed for purposes of governmental grandstanding. Don't take my word for it. Take the word of these people:
- The UK Public Accounts Committee report on problems in the £12.7 billion national EMR program is here.
- Gateway reviews of the UK National Programme for IT from the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) are here (released under the UK’s Freedom of Information Act), and a summary of 16 key points is here.
- ComputerWeekly.com - Blair Rushed NHS IT
- Telegraph.co.UK - more on rushing - Patients' medical records go online without consent
Back to the article:
The BMA (British Medical Association) echoed calls for greater public scrutiny of contracts. "Changes to NHS IT should be driven not by financial or political expedience, but by a commitment to improving clinical care. If any new system is rushed through too quickly, there can be a negative impact on patient care."
Problem #3: The obvious as stated by clinicians is ignored by project leaders and politicians.
Failure at Morecambe Bay could see the largest regional contractor on the 10-year programme, US outsourcing firm Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), come under renewed pressure to book heavy provisions against the value of three £1bn NHS contracts – a move likely to send the group's share price tumbling.
It would also be bad news for iSoft, the Australian firm formerly called IBA Health, which in 2007 acquired crisis-stricken iSoft plc, the British firm behind Lorenzo, and took its name. It has told investors: "iSoft expects the milestone at Morecambe Bay to be met according to the timetable agreed between its partner CSC and the NHS, and expects this achievement to trigger a cash payment to the company."
A Morecambe Bay delay could also push mounting tensions between the Department of Health and CSC into the hands of lawyers, as a squabble breaks out over who should foot the bill for seven years of underperformance since the National Programme contracts were signed in 2003. The government is already facing a reported £700m legal dispute with CSC's fellow regional contractor Fujitsu after the Japanese consultancy firm walked away from a £1bn contract to supply and install IT systems at NHS trusts across the South of England and the West Country three years ago.
If CSC, an $11bn (£7.3bn) Virginia-based group listed on the New York stock exchange, were to enter into a parallel legal battle, it would leave 80% of care records IT contracts – the heart of the National Programme – in the hands of lawyers. After the departure of Fujitsu, and Accenture a year earlier, the only remaining regional contractor aside from CSC is BT, responsible for the London area. It was forced last year to wipe between half and 70% from the value of its £1bn contract with NHS London because of delays and software failings.
Problem #4 (if you can follow all that nonproductive but expensive mayhem that does little beyond consuming precious healthcare resources better spent elsewhere):
Too much outsourcing to a musical-chairs confederacy of management consultant firms rather than use of local expertise.
... Disappointing results from the National Programme – once a flagship NHS modernising push for then prime minister Tony Blair – have become an embarrassment for Labour, and the project has lost the confidence of many NHS staff. Up to now, however, ministers have sought to stress that the taxpayer has not lost out. Earlier this month, health minister Mike O'Brien told BBC Radio 4's File on 4: "Yes, there have been delays. These delays have not cost the tax payer. They have cost the companies – they have taken the risk... Some of these companies have been more ambitious than they should have been." [In other words, they promised far more than they could deliver with the talent on hand - ed.]
Incompetence, talent mismangement and not knowing what they do not know about healthcare IT.
Read the rest of the article at the link above.
Also note the UK's healthcare system is far smaller, far more monolithic, and far more easily controlled by government than that in the U.S.
My belief is that the US program for health IT will likely resemble the UK's in just a few years' time, for the very same reasons. Unless, that is, major changes in the approaches to design and implementation occur, and soon, and the purpose of HIT reigned in to clinician support, not support of massive bureaucracies. I consider the necessary changes unlikely due to the intransigence of the IT culture and of the leadership behind the effort.