Leading article: Waste that the country can no longer afford

The cost of the NHS IT scheme has been staggering. Some £6.4bn has been spent. Another £4.3bn is needed.

Share
Related Topics

The NHS IT scheme will be remembered as one of the great public procurement disasters of all time. The cost has been staggering. Some £6.4bn has been spent. The original 2007 deadline for the completion of the vast project was missed. And now the Government is expected to call a halt to the entire project. Instead of a national database of patients' records, as originally envisaged by the previous Labour government in 2002, we will have a patchwork of incompatible systems.

The House of Commons Public Affairs Committee argues in its new report into the fiasco today that the Department of Health should have consulted more extensively with health professionals before embarking on the project. That is certainly true. Many doctors still do not understand why this new system is being pushed on them. But this has to be seen in a larger context. For this is merely the most expensive in a long line of public-sector IT failures. From the Rural Payments Agency, to the National Offender Management Information System, just about every ambitious IT system inaugurated over the past decade-and- a-half has gone wrong.

Ministers must obviously take a large share of blame. They have gullibly swallowed implausible claims from private-sector sales people about the ability of grand new IT schemes to revolutionise the public services. And rather than running small-scale trials first to test effectiveness, they have leapt in to large projects with both feet. They have been reckless in other ways too. Rather than choosing IT systems that have been shown to work elsewhere, they have approved complex bespoke projects.

Senior civil servants must shoulder responsibility too. It is one of the jobs of these public servants to keep costs under control. Yet they have, in many cases, approved contracts with private firms that have proved to be extremely poor value for taxpayers. It has emerged that several of these contracts are more expensive to break than maintain. Yet we know nothing about who gave them the green light. Ministers have had to answer for the failure of these projects in Parliament. There has been no such accountability for civil servants.

But we must not forget that each botched IT project also represents a private-sector shortcoming. Many firms have promised a great deal but not delivered. The PAC today rightly singles out CSC and BT for criticism for their inability to live up to their contractual commitments over the NHS IT projects. These businesses have been – and continue to be – rewarded for failure.

Away from the blame game, however, the bottom line is that this waste has to end. In an era when the economy was booming, IT faragos, though scandalous, were tolerable. But in these times of austerity, we simply cannot afford to fritter money away in this manner. When one considers that the NHS needs to make efficiency savings of £20bn over the next five years merely to keep up with rising demand for services, the logic of the Government's decision to pull the plug on the remaining £4.3bn commitment for the project is clear. The economic case against public sector waste is now overwhelming.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Governance Manager (Solvency II) – Contract – Up to £450 daily rate, 6 month (may go Permanent)

£350 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently looking...

Recruitment Resourcer

£18000 - £22000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Recruitment Resour...

2nd line support - Derbyshire - 6 months

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: 2nd line support - Derbyshire - 6 months...

Sharepoint Technical Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is a dynamic, fast-growing, fa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Virginia Ironside's dilemmas: My parents call me ugly and inconsiderate

Virginia Ironside
 

What makes dolphins so mysterious? Now is the time to see for yourself

Michael McCarthy
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried