Failed at the NHS? Try again at HS2: Newly appointed director at rail project has history of 'wasting public money'


One of the most heavily criticised men behind the NHS's IT fiasco has been made a director at High Speed Two, the similarly under fire £50bn railway linking London with the north.

Opponents of HS2, who claim the project is a waste of money and will ruin the countryside, reacted with fury this weekend to an appointment they claimed was a "whitewash" and "hysterical". Patrick O'Connell's appointment comes at a time when HS2 is preparing a public relations charm offensive to spell out the benefits of the project, which will cut journey times between the capital and Birmingham to 49 minutes.

HS2 staff were told late last week that Mr O'Connell will soon join them as their programme and strategy boss, but the only part of his resumé that was referred to was his role as chairman at the Oxford Institute for Megaprojects. Up until the end of last year, Mr O'Connell was a senior figure at Serco, the government contractor that has been forced to go through what it calls "corporate renewal", after failing on a range of taxpayer-funded projects.

As well as only recently leaving what is arguably Britain's most vilified company, Mr O'Connell had two stints as president at BT Health.

He was hauled in front of MPs in 2011 to explain the disastrous overhaul of the NHS IT systems, which included developing a standardised electronic care record for every patient. This programme was said to have wasted £2.7bn of taxpayers' money and was a major factor in BT's £1.6bn write-off two years earlier.

Liberal Democrat MP Ian Swales said at the time that the very public embarrassment was "about the management of some kind of superstructure that is going wrong – badly wrong".

A subsequent report attacked BT Health for being "clearly" overpaid and "unable to deliver against its original contract" – although Mr O'Connell was not in charge when the deal was signed in 2003.

A spokesman for the High Speed Action Alliance, which has criticised the coalition for invoking secrecy laws to suppress what is thought to be a damning report into the railway, said: "Along with the Government's desperate attempts to hide the truth on the parlous state of HS2 as a whole, whitewashing Mr O'Connell's career is another example of how HS2 Ltd and the Government [acts] over the failing project.

"Mr O'Connell's role in the NHS IT contract clearly shows that he is used to spending taxpayer money rather than investing it properly. It is hysterical."

At Serco, Mr O'Connell was president of major programmes for Europe and the UK, charged with improving the operational efficiency of the company. The Cabinet Office only deemed Serco to be fit enough to be again allowed to win public sector work at the end of last month.

This followed a string of high-profile disasters in 2013, most notably Serco's role in the £50m electronic-tagging scandal. The state was charged for the supposed tagging of criminals who were back in prison, and even dead.

An HS2 spokesman said: "Patrick O'Connell's appointment as interim Programme and Strategy Director helps to strengthen the team as we move towards the construction phase."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
David Silva strokes home his and City's second goal
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value

Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas