Dell: don't scrap NHS IT programme

Labour's ill-starred NHS National Programme for IT, earmarked for closure by Conservatives before the election, should be given time to find its feet, the head of Dell's healthcare division has said.

"The programme has admittedly not come to be seen as a success," Harry Greenspun told technology new site PublicTechnology.net.

"The deals are now done," Greenspun said, "and it is the basis of what the country needs – an integrated care management system."

Hitting out at rumours that the project faces closure as part of the new coalition government's cost-saving measures, Greenspun added: "[The] use of ICT in healthcare is the only way any kind of cost savings by any kind of government stands a chance of success. The baby must not be thrown out with the bathwater."

The NPfIT project, which has so far cost taxpayers £13 billion, has been hit by a number of setbacks. The most notable of these was the scaling back in March of a pilot project proposed for the Morecambe Bay Health Trust. Widespread criticism led the then-opposition Conservative party to pledge it would dismantle the system if elected.

With the formation of the new coalition government, the party's policy has become less clear. Plans to scrap NPfIT were notably absent from the coalition's joint policy document, released yesterday.

When THINQ contacted the Department of Health for comment, it would neither confirm nor deny reports that the project was to be shelved. With no timetable announced for its closure, this intervention by Dell, one of the project's lead contractors, could be enough to garner support in Whitehall.

Much of the plan has been a success, Dell argues – particularly N3, the secure NHS broadband network that could enable patients to consult doctors remotely via webcam.

Dell believes NPfIT's problems lie not with the technology, but in the way it has been implemented. Arguing for the scheme's survival, Greenspun called on the new government to deal with "negative vibes" towards technology in the NHS.