NHS risks repeating IT failures that cost ‘massive amounts’, say MPs


The NHS and Department of Health are at risk of repeating IT failures that have cost the taxpayer “massive amounts” of money, MPs have said.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said that “none” of the essential structures are in place to turn the situation around after a “track record” of expensive, failed technology programmes.

The report noted it is estimated the NHS will need around £8 billion to deliver its “digital transformation ambitions”.

The PAC said it had been six years since the Health Department’s digital strategy first aimed to achieve a “paperless NHS” by 2018, saying the target had still not been reached, only “watered-down and moved back by six years”.

MPs said the move followed the department’s “expensive and largely unsuccessful” attempt between 2002 and 2011 to introduce a modern, integrated IT systems with patient records available electronically throughout England.

The PAC said: “Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS bodies now risk repeating the mistakes that led to those failures and wasting massive sums of taxpayers’ money.

“In 2020, none of the components essential to successful delivery of the digital ambition for the NHS – effective governance, realistic and detailed plans, sufficient investment nationally and locally, and clear accountability – are in place.”

The report stated: “According to NHSE&I (NHS England and NHS Improvement), the NHS will need around £8.1 billion to deliver its digital transformation ambitions, including £5.1 billion from national bodies and £3 billion from trusts.

“But it is unclear where struggling trusts, some of whom have been dipping into their capital budgets to maintain current service provision, as the Committee reported in July of this year, will find their contribution.”

The report added that without a proper implementation plan, the Health Department and NHSX – the body charged with taking forward the “digital transformation” of the NHS – cannot be sure that the £8.1 billion of taxpayers’ money being invested in the digital transformation programme will deliver “value for money”.

The report said: “NHSX should, as a matter of urgency, publish an implementation plan for meeting its ambitions for transforming digital services.”

The PAC added: “The DHSC and the NHS have a long way to go to deal with, and move on from, the legacy of their track record of failed IT programmes over almost two decades.”

Chairwoman of the PAC Meg Hillier said: “After 18 years of failed attempts to digitally transform the NHS you would hope that the one success that could be claimed was the learning and change to ensure those failures are not repeated.

“Incredibly, still, none of the components essential to successful delivery of the digital ambition for the NHS are in place, and instead the Government presses on with expensive and unproven strategies and contracts that cost the taxpayer millions but don’t deliver.

“The response to the pandemic demonstrates it is possible to reset and adopt new digital solutions and technologies. But there needs to be a clear strategy that works with local trusts and acknowledges the financial pressures they are under.”

The report called for the Health Department to set “realistic targets for transforming digital services”.

And to “improve clarity and transparency”.