box10.gif (1299 bytes)








United Kingdom’s director of health IT calls it quits

Richard Granger, the man in charge of the National Health Service’s delayed £12.4 billion IT upgrade programme, has resigned amid calls from politicians and academics for a wholesale review of the project.

Granger, the NHS director general of IT, is to wind down his role and leave the health service by the end of the year. For his part, Granger says that much has been accomplished. “I am proud of what has been achieved by the team I established in 2002,” he said.

But according to British sources, there is concern that the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) is in trouble. Designed to update the NHS’s paper-based records in England over 10 years, it is the largest non-military IT project attempted in the world.

Four years in, repeated delays, concern about the suitability of core software and the withdrawal of a number of suppliers have left many hospital trusts and clinicians disillusioned with the project.

Last year Accenture, a lead contractor, walked away from two £1bn contracts, writing off hundreds of millions of pounds relating to work on the project.

Mr Granger has argued that his insistence on not paying for work on the programme until it has been delivered has meant the taxpayer has not had to bear the extra cost as suppliers work round the clock to keep the project on track.

He pointed out the NHS had spent £1.5bn on delayed contracts by April last year, instead of the £2.3bn it would have cost had the work been delivered as contracted.

Mr Granger dismissed much of the debate around the IT programme as “complete tosh”. Speaking at an IT conference, he said: “We would not have got to this point without our dedicated ring-fenced funding. I think that with a bit less whingeing and more support ... we might have even got the programme done quicker.”

Mr Granger can argue the programme is on budget, as suppliers only get paid after they deliver, and large amounts of the infrastructure, and a host of other applications, including the wholesale replacement of X-ray film by digital images, are now in place, or being rolled out, and are working.

But the key goal – a full, detailed, local, interchangeable electronic patient record – is running at least two years late. The programme also remains well behind on installing the new patient administration systems that are needed to work with the patient record software that is now due next year.

David Nicholson, who took over as chief executive of the NHS in England last September, has been under pressure from hospital trusts to decentralise the troubled IT programme and open out elements of the healthcare IT market to wider competition.