Skip to main content
I Told You I was Sick!

I’ve been asked to speak at an event on NHS procurement in Dublin next month and the first thing that springs to mind, is why anyone should be surprised at Computer Weekly’s prediction that the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) could cost the taxpayer more than the Channel Tunnel?

Just to remind you briefly The National Health Service is the second or third largest employer in the world (somewhere between the Chinese People’s Army and the Indian State Railway). Both of these have arguably shorter waiting lists.

The NPfIT is the largest computer project in the world in a country where large computer projects have an abysmal delivery record. It was launched to reform a progressively failing health service by using IT as a key theme or a magic wand – take your choice - in joining up relevant health and social care operations. Unlike the Indian State Railway, the NPfIT will become a time limited Executive Agency for three to five years and will incorporate the IT infrastructure functions of the NHS Information Authority (NHSIA) which will be disappear.

As I read through my PowerPoint deck, I’m struck by the breathtaking scale of the numbers representing a touching belief in the ability of public sector suppliers to deliver efficient, fully joined-up health services, on time and on budget. The NHS budget has risen from £33 billion to £67.4 billion, with average spending per head of population showing a 50% increase from £680 to £1,345and the NPfIT represents a £6 billion spending spree with four core projects: a universal system for electronic medical records, a hospital appointments system, a broadband infrastructure and e-prescriptions. Three examples of projects costs are the diagnostic imaging contract worth £196 million a £620 million contract to build the national patient record database and the national electronic patient records system worth £2.3 billion by 2010.

Computer Weekly’s IT Expenditure Report predicts the NPfIT will push NHS IT spending growth up by 61% in 2004 to nearly £3bn; in stark contrast with average growth of 8.4% in IT spending in the overall economy. Such a dramatic leap in the amount of government money washing around the IT industry and looking for good causes rather explains why companies across Europe are queuing-up to hear how they might be able to introduce their own products and services into the NPfIT, either through the government catalogue or through partnership with the larger system integrators, the usual suspects, increasingly obsessed with the avoidance of liability rather than delivery, holding the lions’ share of the projects.

With Computer Weekly predicting that the NPfIT will cost as much as £18.6 billion before it’s finished – almost as much as the new Scottish Parliament – one can understand why there’s an increased level of optimism across the UK IT industry. My own concern however that is this represents a false economy and one this country can hardly afford if such a figure is even partly accurate. Believe me; I want the NPfIT to succeed because like everyone else out there I’m sick of having to negotiate my way through an overworked and often inefficient health service. What I’m lacking however is confidence, confidence in the interoperability of solutions, confidence in the companies that are promising to deliver them and finally and from experience, confidence that like the ill-fated Scottish Parliament building, costs will steadily rise, leaving the government trapped between a rock and a hard place, as the awful truth slowly dawns on the Treasury.


Popular posts from this blog

A Matter of Drones - Simon Moores for The Guardian

I have a drone on my airfield” – a statement that welcomes passengers to the latest dimension in air-travel disruption. Words of despair from the chief operating officer of Gatwick airport in the busiest travel week of the year. Elsewhere, many thousands of stranded and inconvenienced passengers turned in frustration to social media in an expression of crowd-sourced outrage.

How could this happen? Why is it still happening over 12 hours after Gatwick’s runways were closed to aircraft, why is an intruder drone – or even two of them – suspended in the bright blue sky above the airport, apparently visible to security staff and police who remain quite unable to locate its source of radio control?

Meanwhile, the UK Civil Aviation Authority, overtaken by both the technology and events, is reduced to sending out desperate tweets warning that an airport incursion is a criminal offence and that drone users should follow their new code of conduct. Yet this is not an unforeseen event. It was i…
A Christmas Tale

It’s pitch blackness in places along the sea wall this evening and I'm momentarily startled by a small dog with orange flashing yuletide antlers along the way. I’m the only person crazy enough to be running and I know the route well enough to negotiate it in the dark, part of my Christmas exercise regime and a good way of relieving stress.

Why stress you might ask. After all, it is Christmas Day.

True but I’ve just spent over two hours assembling the giant Playmobil ‘Pony Farm’ set when most other fathers should be asleep in front of the television.

I was warned that the Playmobil ‘Pirate Ship’ had driven some fathers to drink or suicide and now I understand why. If your eyesight isn’t perfect or if you’ve had a few drinks with your Christmas lunch then it’s a challenge best left until Boxing day but not an option if you happen to have a nine year old daughter who wants it ready to take horses by tea time.

Perhaps I should stick to technology but then, the instruc…

An Ockham of Gatwick

The 13th century theologian and philosopher, William of Ockham, who once lived in his small Surrey village, not so very far from what is today, the wide concrete expanse of Gatwick airport is a frequently referenced source of intellectual reason. His contribution to modern culture was Ockham’s Razor, which cautions us when problem solving, that “The explanation requiring the fewest assumptions is most likely to be correct;” sound advice which constantly proves to be true.

A week further-on since Britain’s second busiest airport was bought to a complete standstill by two or perhaps two hundred different drone sightings, it is perhaps time to revisit William of Ockham’s maxim, rather than be led astray by an increasingly bizarre narrative, one which has led Surrey police up several blind alleys with little or nothing in the way of measurable results.

 Exploring the possibilities with a little help in reasoning from our medieval friar, we appear to have a choice of two different account…