The NHS National Programme for IT, or NPfIT, has been officially scrapped as spiralling costs and displeasure from on high kill the dream of cheap, organised, centralised IT provision for national healthcare services.
The programme was announced back in 2003 with a lofty aim: to drive cost-savings and improve IT performance within the NHS through a centralised approach, discarding the current fragmented approach which sees each local health trust organise its own systems.
The programme was budgeted to cost £12.7 billion, using which it would deliver a nationalised email system for all NHS trusts and subsidiaries, an electronic prescription service, and a centralised records database for the storage of medical notes, X-rays, and the like.
Sadly, things didn't go according to pan: the programme is a long way from reaching any of its key goals, despite the end of the ten-year deadline on which it was founded rapidly approaching. As a result, the government has issued a decree: pull the plug.
According to a statement from the Department for Health, issued today, the programme will be dismantled under a ruling of 'not fit for purpose,' with the government blaming the last lot for the project's failure.
"The programme was created in 2002 under the last government," the buck-passing edict declares, "and the MPA [the Cabinet Office's Major Projects Authority] has concluded that it is not fit to provide the modern IT services that the NHS needs."
That's not to say that the programme has achieved nothing, however. "The MPA found that there have been substantial achievements which are now firmly established," the statement continues, "such as the Spine, N3 Network, NHSmail, Choose and Book, Secondary Uses Service and Picture Archiving and Communications Service. Their delivery accounts for around two thirds of the £6.4bn money spent so far and they will continue to provide vital support to the NHS.
"However, the review reported the National Programme for IT has not and cannot deliver to its original intent. In a modernised NHS, which puts patients and clinicians in the driving seat for achieving health outcomes amongst the best in the world, it is no longer appropriate for a centralised authority to make decisions on behalf of local organisations.
"The exchange of information between patients and clinicians and across the NHS is a fundamental part of how we are centring care on patients and making sure innovation and choice are fully supported," a spokesperson for the Department of Health claimed. "The NPfIT achieved much in terms of infrastructure and this will be maintained, along with national applications, such as the Summary Care Record and Electronic Prescriptions Service, which are crucial to improving patient safety and efficiency.
"But we need to move on from a top down approach and instead provide information systems driven by local decision-making. This is the only way to make sure we get value for money and that the modern NHS meets the needs of patients," the spokesperson added.
The move from large-scale, centralised contracts to the traditional locally-sourced approach could come with one benefit: while only the biggest of mega-corporations were considered for NPfIT contracts, smaller companies will once again be able to enter into negotiations with local NHS trusts.