You’ve Got Mail – At A Price

Let me tell you a story.

It starts with an eGov monitor report that “The National Programme for NHS IT (NPfIT) is re-tendering for a national email and directory service for 1.2 million staff after deciding to terminate a £91 million contract with EDS last month”.

In a tender notice issued on 3 April, the Department of Health said the existing service was to be withdrawn, with a new service provider being sought "urgently" to provide continuity. The tender's estimated value is between £50m to £90m, which when compared to the contract for the current service, awarded to EDS by the NHS Information Authority in October 2002, and would indicate scope for significant saving in cost.

Reading this, I was struck by an overwhelming sense of Déjà vu because, you may remember from Computer Weekly and even The Guardian from November 8th 2002, that I’ve written about this fiasco once before. Wondering how on earth government could justify spending £91 million on a directory services and email project, when I happen to know from one source involved with the project that an original NHS internal estimate costed the project at no more than £10 million.

You may also remember that Government officials and EDS claimed, at the time, that they were aware of widespread cynicism about large IT projects, but insisted that the concerns are unjustified; with EDS strategy director David Fisher claiming that EDS had an "unrivalled record of success in government" and adding that £91m deal, over 10 years, was cheap for what was being provided.

Even the Office of the e-Envoy agonised over the cost at the time. I also recall a conversation at Stockley House with one of it’s Directors, where we both agreed that £91 million was an insane price with little visible justification and yet Government appeared hell-bent on throwing money at the project with the same partner that had managed to drop the ball on two other flagship projects, the child support agency and the Inland Revenue.

At least today, government has accepted there is room for savings but one has to ask how much time and taxpayer’s money has already been wasted by this unholy urge to throw funds at the health service? I don’t know the answer but the BBC, apparently now recovered from the Hutton inquiry, wants to know and last week, they called and asked for contacts and resources that might shed a little more light on the question.

Despairing of the problems in NHS IT, one Computer Weekly reader has written to me privately and commented, “I got out of the Department of Health after many years spent supporting NHS IT. I tried to inject some common sense into the changes I saw and feedback why things didn't work and what lessons should be learned. But when you see the same mistakes being made time after time, it gets very dispiriting. All of which indicates to me that the NHS cannot be run to the 4-5 year timescale dictated by the political agenda”. “The most telling comment is that many believe that the system introduced by the Conservatives may have been better”.


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