NHS database is costing us dear

If you had £7.2m to improve services at your local hospital, how would you spend it?

There’s lots of good causes out there. For example, Guys has just spent £1.3m on a new centre for treating children with allergies, asthma and eczema.
Meanwhile the Royal Free has been lumbered with £7.2m expense from the failures of the latest NHS IT system.

And it’s not the first problem with the NHS database to affect local hospitals. Back in September, Barts and the London NHS Trust also admitted they were struggling, with at least £2.5M extra expense to make up for computer problems. That’s £2.5M less for patient care.

The driver behind the NHS national database is the Labour Government’s obsession with targets and the data to support them. As a software professional, I know well-designed, sensibly-implemented databases can really improve services. But the larger and more complex the system, the greater the room for error. And the greater the distraction from the main purpose of the NHS – caring for patients and promoting public health.

If Labour is forcing the NHS to spend billions of public money on national databases instead of nurses and doctors, then they have a duty to get it right. That’s not happening at the moment. The £12.7bn scheme is years behind schedule and it still doesn’t work.

And even if it did ever work, there are risks, as the people’s prophet, Vince Cable, pointed out a year ago.

It doesn’t have to be this way. A cheaper, less disruptive, and more sustainable solution would be for the NHS to adopt a common set of standards – and then let individual hospitals and GPs develop their own systems within them.

Scrapping the NHS National IT programme – as the Lib Dems propose – would release those billions to spend on frontline health care.

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3 Comments »

  1. UK Voter said

    I completely agree, but would like to make one further point. I have twice witnessed the introduction of a new database prcessing programme and in each instance, users claimed it did not work. Why, because it was different and not what they were used to and, they were not involved at the outset. This is a fairly typical mistake.

    In the first case, the sytem was eventually embraced by all, in the second, the users rebelled. Government must not spend so much money unless, or until they have buy-in, at the moment, the health professionals are resisting this database, that does not bode well. I have also heard estimates that the final cost will be as much as £32bn, although the government have suggested it would be closer to £20bn, a far cry from the original estimate of £2.7bn.

  2. bridgetfox said

    You make a very good point about user buy-in.

    It’s part of a wider problem of central government dictating not only the ends but the means to all levels of the public sector, which is adding to their burdens (and costs) without necessarily improving the service.

    In my own service area – library systems – the Government has not so far interfered (praise be!). That means different library services have a genuine choice of products and suppliers: where there is a customer-led need for co-operation (eg on contributing to joint databases, or supporting cross-service smartcards) the suppliers co-operate, without undermining that choice.

    This keeps suppliers on their toes, keeps prices competitive, keeps invidividual projects on a manageable scale, and keeps customers happy.

  3. […] been appropriate, providing IT services, has been crushed by a huge and hugely-expensive national NHS IT scheme that is still not […]

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