MPs slam costs of NHS IT system

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Published: Thursday 2nd July 2015 by The News Editor

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The cost of a delayed NHS IT system has risen to £40 million, has only delivered data to one customer , and is unlikely to have a long-term future, according to a damning report .

The General Practice Extraction Service (GPES) was designed to allow NHS organisations to receive information from all GP practice computer systems in England and was due to start in 2009/10 but the first data was only available last year.

An investigation by the National Audit Office also found the scheme, which was inherited by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) in 2013, has been “significantly delayed”, while it is not even certain that all aspects of it work.

NHS England is the only customer that has so far received any information.

The report found that the expected cost of the GPES programme increased from £14 million to £40 million during its planning and procurement, and while further cost increases have been smaller, there have been at least £5.5 million of write-offs and delay costs throughout the project.

It said these failures have meant that the value of the system and its projected life span have been significantly reduced and it is only expected to be used for two more years in its current form – lower than the five-year minimum lifetime assumed for new IT systems.

While three other customers, including Public Health England and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), are expected to use the service in 2015/16, the National Audit Office said it is unlikely that GPES in its current form can provide the NHS-wide service planned, although the HSCIC intends to reuse parts of it for a replacement system if possible.

Other findings include that using the service is “time consuming” as it depends upon specialist HSCIC staff having to manually input information, while some areas have yet to be tested on the live system.

The project was meant to enable NHS organisations to monitor the quality of health services provided by GPs as well as plan and pay for health services and aid medical research.

The report said the service will continue to operate in the short-term as it is used to determine payments to GPs and its coverage of all practices in England cannot currently be replicated by any other alternative system.

Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, Labour MP Meg Hillier, said: ” Failed Government IT projects have long been an expensive cliche and, sadly for the taxpayer and service user, this is no exception.

“The expected cost of the General Practice Extraction Service (GPES), an IT system which allows data to be extracted from all GP practices in England, ballooned from £14 million to £40 million during planning, with at least £5.5 million wasted on write-offs and delay costs.

“GPES has managed to provide data for just one customer – NHS England – and the data was received four years later than originally planned.

“While taxpayers are left picking up the tab for this failure, customers who could benefit, such as research and clinical audit organisations, are waiting around for the system to deliver what they need to improve our health service.”

The project was started by the NHS Information Centre in 2007 but taken on by the HSCIC when it came into being in April 2013.

A HSCIC spokeswoman said: “The report is clear significant issues occurred in the years before the inception of the HSCIC, which was created two years ago with a new mandate, structure and senior leadership team.

“We are equally clear that upon our creation we took full responsibility for delivering a data extraction service that is operationally and financially efficient.

“Our focus is on developing a suitable service that meets the needs of the NHS and patients and our first priority was to stabilise the service to make sure it could make payments to more than 8,000 GP practices in England. We ensured this happened and have so far supported payments worth approximately £1.7 billion, covering important care areas like dementia.”

Published: Thursday 2nd July 2015 by The News Editor

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