by CIO Staff

NHS IT Chief Defends Modernization Program

Jun 20, 20063 mins
Data CenterEnterprise Applications

The U.K. National Health Service’s IT chief on Tuesday acknowledged problems with its ambitious 10-year modernization project, but cited progress in installing next-generation medical IT systems throughout England.

Richard Granger said he was pleased with the accuracy of a report released Friday by the National Audit Office. Granger is a former partner with Deloitte Consulting who took charge of the project in October 2002. The 57-page report highlighted the program’s well-known troubles and challenges, but was generally complimentary on its overall management.

Granger, on the other hand, has been the target of bruising British media reports, which consistently cast the NHS project as an expensive bungle. The sharp press reports are a legacy of other over-budget and off-schedule public IT projects in the United Kingdom.

Speaking at a public sector IT conference in London, Granger said there are two types of journalists, “those who read things that they are then writing about—the NAO report—and then there are those who just write what they think about.”

His project, called the National Program for IT, is immensely complex, both in its technical scope and size. “Scale is a big problem,” he said. “It is almost impossible to get everything right everywhere.”

Granger described the work as a “tricky cocktail,” where new IT systems have to function in a medical environment where there is very little tolerance for inaccuracy. Another barrier has been different levels of enthusiasm to use the new technology among hospitals, he said.

BT Group, Accenture, Japan’s Fujitsu Services and Computer Sciences of El Segundo, Calif., are the four main contractors working on the project in five regions. Those companies have let subcontracts for other services, such as software application development specific to the medical industry.

Many of those suppliers, Granger said, are in “pain” at the moment, but said they are well-capitalized organizations that will pull through.

To shield itself from accusations of wasting taxpayer money, the NHS is delaying payment until new systems are up and working. The main contractors are also primarily responsible, even if delays come from subcontracted work.

The NAO report said the Care Records Service, an electronic patient records system, is about two years behind, while the network designed to transmit those records, the National Data Spine, is about 10 months behind.

The report also presented a revised estimated cost of 12.4 billion pounds (US$22.9 billion) for the program.

Granger cited several working implementations. More than 50 percent of hospitals in southern England are no longer using wet-film X-rays, moving toward of a goal of having radiology records accessible anywhere on the network.

The New National Network, an enterprise-class WAN, now transmits 100 terabytes of data per month, equivalent to 4.5 billion pages, according to a slide in Granger’s presentation.

-Jeremy Kirk, IDG News Service (London Bureau)

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