Department of Health 'squanders' millions of pounds of taxpayer's money on overdue NHS IT project

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said a scheme for centralising data held on GP’s computer systems had fallen victim to 'basic mistakes' and 'inadequate testing'

MPs have blasted the Department of Health for “squandering” millions of pounds worth of taxpayer’s money on an overdue and over-budget NHS IT project.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said a scheme for centralising data held on GP’s computer systems had fallen victim to “basic mistakes” and “inadequate testing”.

One of the suppliers, Atos, which has faced past criticism over its handling of the Government's fitness-to-work assessments, should have its status as a supplier to the Crown reviewed, MPs added, accusing the IT firm of failing to show “an appropriate duty of care to the taxpayer”.

The General Practice Extraction Service, which was designed to allow NHS organisations to extract data from GP practices in England had been expected to start working in 2009 but not used until 2014, according to the PAC’s report.

The cost of the project rose from £14m to £40m in the planning and procurement stage of the project, and MPs identified at least £5.5m paid out in contract write-offs and delay costs.

One of the eight suppliers of the service, Atos, should be reviewed by the Cabinet Office, the report said.

“We are not satisfied Atos provided proper professional support to an inexpert client and are very concerned that it appears to have acted solely with its own short term best interests in mind,” the report says.

“The Cabinet Office should undertake a full review of Atos’s relationships as a supplier to the Crown, with particular reference to long term value for taxpayers.”

“Once again we see a failure in a Government IT project at huge cost to the taxpayer," said Meg Hillier, chair of the PAC. “It’s incredible that basic mistakes on contract and project management are still being made, from inadequate testing to woeful governance.

 “We keep calling for ‘lessons to be learned’ and keep receiving reassurances from senior accounting officers that they are. Yet the same issues occur time after time. It’s simply not good enough.

 “The Government needs to get its house in order, properly address these very serious failings and ensure public money is not squandered in such an irresponsible manner.”

A Department of Health spokesperson acknowledged that mistakes had been made but said the project, which is now the responsibility of the recently-established Health and Social Care Information Centre, was now meeting “the needs of the NHS and patients”.

An Atos spokesperson said it had only been responsible for part of the project.

“On the part of the system we built, we collaborated fully with NHS Information Centre, adding additional functionality as requested and where issues were found we fixed them quickly at our own cost,” the spokesperson said. 

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