Letter: Flaws in NHS accountability

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The Independent Online
Sir: The Independent's investigation of the Wessex Regional Health Authority computer fiasco has revealed serious flaws in NHS accountability. The role played by an IBM board and health authority member and by a former cabinet minister in lobbying for a multi-million-pound contract is clearly a matter of public interest. So is the District Auditor's criticism of the current chairman, Sir Robin Buchanan.

The regional health authority did not believe that it should reveal this information. Nor did the civil servants who prepared the National Audit Office report for the Public Accounts Committee. The health minister was aware of the information and could have brought it to public attention, but did not do so.

Powerful regional health authority positions are filled by ministerial nominees, yet ministers refuse to accept responsibility for their nominees' actions. Parliament was first misled about the tendering for the Regional Information Systems Plan project in May 1987. Since then, MPs' queries about RISP have been referred to the RHA itself. Even now, Wessex is being allowed to drop or settle legal actions arising from RISP without any scrutiny by the Department of Health.

To avoid similar scandals in future, three responses seem appropriate. The audit service must be given a wider duty to draw attention to inappropriate action by any individuals or companies. As long as ministers insist on making key NHS appointments, they must take responsibility for their actions and ensure that the Department of Health monitors their work more closely. Health authority members should become accountable to the communities which they serve and made subject to the same fiduciary duty and strictures as local government councillors.

Yours sincerely,

JOHN DENHAM

MP for Southampton Itchen

(Lab)

House of Commons

London, SW1

15 February

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