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NHS IT Systems a ‘waste’; Genetics Are the Future

Posted on the 03 August 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost
NHS IT systems a ‘waste’; genetics are the future

MP Margaret Hodge. Photo credit: Institute for Government http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/5387277944/sizes/m/in/photostream/

The National Programme for IT was launched by the Labour Government in 2002, with an estimated cost of £11 billion. It was intended to create a database of electronic records which could be used across the entire NHS. £6.4 billion has already been spent on the scheme; but the Commons Public Accounts Committee has called for it to be scrapped, claiming it is unworkable and has created a patchwork of systems; this despite the fact that it may cost more to break the contracts than continue with them. This comes as news that the beleaguered NHS has not kept up to date with the latest findings in genetic research. According to Sir John Bell, who is leading an inquiry into the future of genetics for the NHS, the healthcare system is “completely unprepared” to deal with these new developments, which could help identify and control diseases across the board.

Read the Commons Public Accounts report here

  • Menu of modules? Martin Beckford on The Daily Telegraph reported that MPs claimed a single IT system “was always a ‘massive risk.’” Clinicians were not consulted; in the north, midlands and east of England only “10 of 166 trusts” have received “a basic system, while no mental health body has received one.” There is a lack of basic information for Whitehall officials; the Department of Health is now working on a “menu of modules” for hospitals to choose from, but the systems won’t necessarily “work with each other.” Everything is uncertain.

“Trying to create a one-size-fits-all system in the NHS was a massive risk and has proven to be unworkable,” Chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, Labour MP Margaret Hodge

  • Maximum value for taxpayer. Kirsty Walker on The Daily Mail reported that ministers, having abandoned attempts to link up the NHS to a central system, will “focus on integrating systems that are already being used”. Trusts will keep systems that are suitable to their needs, whilst being able to use bits of the new system. This will ensure “maximum value for the taxpayer.”
  • Public procurement disaster. This will be remembered as “one of the great public procurement disasters of all time,” said The Independent’s editorial. Staggering costs and missed deadlines have led to a fiasco. In a wider context, this is merely one in a long line of IT failures: “just about every ambitious IT system inaugurated over the past decade-and- a-half has gone wrong.” Ministers must shoulder the blame for being led down the garden path by private sector sales people, and for jumping in at the deep end; civil servants must take a part too: they should have kept costs down. We must not forget the shortcomings of the private sector, with firms promising the earth but not delivering. But the bottom line is “this waste has to end.”
  • Never mind the IT systems; what about genetics? We’ve failed to capitalise on genetics, said The Times editorial. According to Sir John Bell, the health service rarely does genetic testing of cancers; and when it does, it uses out of date technology. The problem is “narrow thinking”. Upfront investment is necessary now to save money in the future. Genetics offers “huge benefits” to patients, with the phenomenon possibly becoming “akin to Moore’s Law in computing, which has seen roughly a doubling in processing power every two years, and a commensurate fall in price.” The NHS is poor at innovation: we must look at the NHS as “a structural opportunity for the country.” It needs to grab the “commercial upside”, and to think creatively about offsetting the growing costs of healthcare by taking stakes in pharmaceutical companies. Voices will be raised against this idea. But the NHS is losing money. It only sees hurdles. Instead, “[t]hey should see a new way for the NHS to get fit for the future.”

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