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8/4/2011
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U.K. Scrapping National Health IT Network

The much-criticized network would have covered 52 million England residents; local health authorities now empowered to build IT infrastructure of their choice.

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After nine years and £11.4 billion ($18.7 billion), the British government is about to scrap its attempt to build a massive, nationwide health IT network for the 52 million residents of England, a London news report says.

Instead, the National Health Service (NHS) will follow the recommendations of a parliamentary report and give local authorities more leeway in selecting and implementing health IT systems, according to a story that appeared Wednesday in The Independent. Government ministers are expected to make the announcement next month, the newspaper said.

"We want to give control over decisions about new systems to the local NHS, rather than forcing a one-size-fits-all solution," an unnamed government source is quoted as saying. "This allows trusts to retain the systems they want to suit their local needs, while taking advantage of elements of the new system. It means change can happen without ripping out entire existing systems, making that change more manageable, and, given the fast pace of technological change, greater ability to exploit the new innovations."

According to The Independent, the British government is negotiating settlements with major contractors in the program, originally called the National Programme for IT and now dubbed NHS Connecting for Health.

The move apparently stems from a scathing report on Connecting for Health prepared by a multi-party parliamentary committee. The House of Commons' Public Accounts Committee ripped the program, which was supposed to be the largest civilian IT project in the world, as being wasteful and "beyond the capacity of the Department of Health to deliver."

"The [U.K. Department of Health] has been unable to demonstrate what benefits have been delivered from the £2.7 billion ($4.4 billion) spent on the project so far," Public Accounts Committee chair Margaret Hodge told The Independent. "It should now urgently review whether it is worth continuing with the remaining elements of the care-records system. The £4.3 billion ($7.1 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."

According to the newspaper, the British government had allocated an additional £4.4 billion ($7.2 billion) for Connecting for Health that has not yet been spent.

Much of the committee's blame fell on the Department of Health's reluctance to engage clinicians in the decision-making. "The department could have avoided some of the pitfalls and waste if they had consulted at the start of the process with health professionals," the report said.

The committee also criticized the lucrative contracts the government gave to a handful of technology vendors. "One supplier, Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), has yet to deliver the bulk of the systems it is contracted to supply and has instead implemented a large number of interim systems as a stopgap," it said.

CSC is disputing that contention. "In response to the publication of the Public Accounts Committee report, CSC firmly believes that the public funds committed to date, combined with the significantly modified, more flexible approach we have proposed to ensure faster deployment and more localized decision making, will deliver value for money to U.K. government," the Falls Church, Va.-based consulting firm said in a written statement e-mailed to InformationWeek Healthcare.

"CSC has achieved over 1,800 successful system implementations across the North, Midlands, and East of England as part of the NHS' National Programme for IT. These systems are already delivering substantial benefits through the introduction of electronic patient record systems into primary and secondary care," the company continued.

CSC last week completed its acquisition of iSoft, an Australian company that was building an electronic medical records system for the North Midlands and East of England region as part of a subcontract with CSC.

Find out how health IT leaders are dealing with the industry's pain points, from allowing unfettered patient data access to sharing electronic records. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Healthcare: There needs to be better e-communication between technologists and clinicians. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)

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