MPs demand reforms after pounds 20m bungle: Cross-party group denounces Wessex health authority. Chris Blackhurst reports

TENS of millions of pounds of NHS money that could have been spent treating the sick was wasted on a grandiose computer project, MPs concluded yesterday.

In one of the most strongly worded reports published by a cross-party group of MPs, the Public Accounts Committee severely criticised executives at the Wessex Regional Health Authority for spending pounds 43m on an information system that was eventually abandoned. Questions about the scheme were first raised by the Independent and Computer Weekly.

MPs said it was a 'a matter of grave concern that, by the management executive's own admission, at least pounds 20m was wasted' between 1984, when the plan started, and 1990, when it was scrapped. 'This money should have been spent on health care for sick people.'

The 210-page report presents a litany of bungling, incompetence and possible deceit. In 24 sharply phrased conclusions, the committee repeatedly voices its 'concern' and 'dismay' at the behaviour of the Wessex RHA management.

Apart from embarrassment that its much-vaunted health service reforms should have gone so spectacularly off the rails in this instance, the Government also comes in for direct criticism. It was 'unacceptable', the committee said, that 'although a series of auditors' reports were presented to the management executive and the Secretary of State between February 1987 and August 1989, detailing what had gone wrong in the implementation of the project, it was not abandoned by the Regional Health Authority until 1990'. Successive Secretaries of State for Health during that period were Norman Fowler, John Moore and Kenneth Clarke.

Even if much of the blame could be attached to John Hoare, the Wessex regional general manager, the committee said 'fundamental changes are needed in the management and accountability arrangements at regional health authorities'.

Not only did the RHA management dispute the auditors' findings, but they were able to conceal vital details from members of the authority and management executive. MPs criticised both bodies for 'allowing themselves to be kept at arm's length for three-and-a- half years over the mismanagement of this project'. This was 'a serious failure on the part of the regional health authority to secure accountability from the then regional general manager, and a failure on the part of the management executive to act with sufficient urgency'.

Some of the key criticisms centre on the role of Andersen Consulting, the firm that advised on the software at the same time as it was bidding to supply the core computer system. Andersen was awarded the consultancy at an inquorate meeting of the RHA. The firm's contract contained no quality provisions and no maximum price.

Andersen's belief that there was not a conflict of interest is dismissed. 'It is clearly wrong for somebody who is tendering for NHS business also to be advising the NHS as their consultant.'

The dangers posed by the NHS's increasing use of consultants are also vividly highlighted. At Wessex, they were not adequately controlled, and their advisory contracts were not put out to tender.

Wessex Integrated Systems, the company that won the right to operate the health authority's computer services, had a contract guaranteeing 15 per cent profits, regardless of performance, and minus any controls. Also, if the company failed, the RHA was to step in - something the MPs describe as a failure to protect the public interest.

Measures taken by the RHA did not reflect the seriousness of what occurred or prevent it from happening again. Mr Hoare should have been disciplined - 'indeed, we have to say that we regard it as unsatisfactory and surprising that none of the main parties involved in the waste of pounds 20m has suffered any significant form of disciplinary measure'.

In future, non-executive members of RHAs must be of 'sufficient calibre and experience to bring independent judgements to bear on key decisions'. What was needed was 'clearer lines of accountability and control'.

It was also important, concluded the MPs, that 'all health service staff respect the fundamental principles of public business in this country, and are judged, in their own performance, by the standards of honesty, openness and fair dealing that are expected in public life'.

The MPs said concern for those standards must play a large part in staff recruitment and training at all levels.

Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MS Dynamics NAV Developer

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: **MS Dynamics N...

Data Analytics Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading organisation...

1st line call logger/ User access administrator

£9 Per Hour: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Warrington a...

Shine Night Walk 2014 - 'On the night' volunteer roles

Unpaid Voluntary Work : Cancer Research UK: We need motivational volunteers to...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star