Serious doubts were raised yesterday over the NHS National Programme for IT, after chancellor Alistair Darling suggested it would be scrapped.\nAhead of Wednesday\u2019s pre-Budget report, the chancellor told the BBC that the \u00a312.7 billion programme was \u201csomething that I think we don\u2019t need to go ahead with just now\u201d.\nThe comments created a public relations frenzy in Whitehall, as government officials scrambled to tell the press that the chancellor \u201cmis-spoke\u201d, and that what he meant was that ministers were considering curtailing some elements of the programme. Cuts would be aimed at saving up to \u00a3600 million over the next few years from the NHS budget, the Financial Times reported.\nA spokesperson at the Department of Health said: "The chancellor and the secretary of state for health have examined options for savings on the NHS IT system and more details will be set out in due course."\nLiberal DemocratMPs immediately called for the programme to be \u201cabandoned in its entirety\u201d, and the Conservatives labelled it a \u201cdisaster\u201d.\nThe National Programme has a number of elements, including the rollout of hospital patient administration systems, electronic care records, digital X-rays, electronic prescriptions and hospital-wide broadband. The first two are far from complete, but it is not clear which, if either, will be curtailed.\nTola Sargeant, research director at analyst house TechMarketView, said that electronic patient records were the "most likely part of the programme to face the axe", because of their late running and problematic early rollouts. Procurement by trusts in the south, which is to begin next year, could also face cancellation, she said.\nThe programme faces trouble on other fronts. Fujitsu, which lost its contract with the government to supply part of the NPfIT, is in talks over its claim for \u00a3700 million compensation. Of its remaining suppliers, CSC and BT, the latter has been able to expand the value of its contract by over 50 per cent, leading analysts to say it had the NHS \u201cover a barrel\u201d.\nThe amount that could be saved by scrapping significant parts of the NPfIT is not clear. The taxpayer has so far paid only a fraction of the estimated \u00a312.7 billion project costs, because suppliers are tied up in strict contracts that only allow payment on delivery. With electronic patient records and administration systems slated to be at least four years late, the suppliers have spent billions of pounds on work but earned only a small portion of what they had expected.\nIn the coming weeks the Department of Health is assessing whether the latest patient system deployments by the suppliers meets its standards. If BT or CSC are judged to have failed, the government has made it clear the programme will be re-evaluated.\nIf either supplier loses its contract or sees its scope change, the government will likely face further challenging legal battles.