You can’t make an omelette...
As an employee of the NPfIT (full disclosure : I work for BT), I find myself in the strange position of actually defending one of the government’s projects (remarkable, but true). £12bn sounds like a lot – but employ a calculator and you can see that that is about £20 per UK-citizen per year (which, compared to the £14000 that HMG has given to ‘too-big-to-fail’ banks on my behalf, is peanuts). True, there has been money wasted along the way, and there have been failings in the way that it has been implemented, but the need for an NHS-wide information system is imperative.
Example : I was hospitalised with a severe injury a few years back and, when discharged, advised to see my GP a week later. Imagine my utter lack of surprise that my GP had no knowledge of what had happened, so he had to rely on my (hazy) recollection of what medical treatment I had received (which took up most of a 15-minute appointment), rather than having my medical record passed to him down the intertubes. How much NHS time (and therefore money) is wasted in circumstances such as that ? How many people get second-rate treatment because one clinician has no way of knowing what another one has done ? As Dr Ingrams from the British Medical Association said (quoted on the BBC), "The NHS pays out a third of a billion pounds a year on mistakes; a lot of that could be put right if the IT was in place."
Another example : two years ago the PACS – picture archiving – system was deployed: until then, in most hospitals, x-rays were *still* stored in cardboard folders on shelves in corridors. How many private businesses still keep everything in filing cabinets (with no way of searching for anything that is mis-filed) ? NHS trusts (there’s 127 of them) reported an average saving of £250,000 in their first year of using PACS (so a total saving of c.£32 million). Can anyone who reads El Reg say that their workplace has thrown money down the drain by getting some computer systems, and should just go back to doing all their work by hand and snailmail ?
Also quoted by BBC : Tony Collins, executive editor of Computer Weekly magazine, said the government should scrap central contracts..."They could save money by cancelling those central contracts and giving trusts the ability to choose what systems they want."
IMHO, as an industry insider, this is part of the problem, not a solution: before there was any central authority, a lot of Trusts invested in ‘what systems they want’, which (surprise surprise) were in no way compatible because they were developed by scores of different IT firms. What good is it if your doctor’s in Liverpool but you get hospitalised in Manchester, who have a different system ? How are the Manc hospital going to get hold of your GP’s records, or feed back the hospital notes to your GP ? What if you move house – are your PCT just going to print out a paper copy of your notes, send them to your new PCT, who have to type them up onto a different system ?
There’s plenty of things to deride this government for, but dragging the NHS into the 20th Century isn’t one of them.