MPs urge rethink of NHS records project

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The Independent Online

The controversial programme to upgrade the National Health Service's IT systems has suffered another blow after two MPs called for an overhaul of the project yesterday.

Richard Bacon, the Conservative MP for South Norfolk, and John Pugh, the Liberal Democrat MP for Southport, argued that the programme should be reformed to allow hospital trusts to purchase systems locally that can then be linked into the national network. Both MPs are members of the Commons Public Accounts Committee that reviewed the programme in June.

The pairsaid that the project's "fundamental error" was to centralise the procurement of single systems across the NHS. "The Government is convincing no one that the situation is under control. The national programme for IT in the NHS is currently sleepwalking towards disaster ... This programme is costing taxpayers a king's ransom, but is descending into chaos," they said.

A Department of Health spokeswoman rejected their claims. She said: "The procurement approach has saved a huge amount of taxpayers' money. The recent National Audit Office report confirmed the NHS IT programme is on budget... The claim that the whole programme is behind schedule is inaccurate."

The politicians argued the project is behind schedule with projected costs spiralling to £15bn.

ISoft, the largest supplier of software to the project, has borne the brunt of criticism and is also being investigatedfor accounting irregularities. The systems integrator Accenture's commitment to the project also remains unclear. The MPs said: "These problems are a consequence of over-centralisation, over-ambition and an obsession with quick political fixes."