NHS and DHSC have 'long way to go' to deal with repeated failed IT programmes

A report on digital transformation in the NHS says both bodies need to move on from the track record of two decades' worth of failed IT programmes.
By Sara Mageit
09:51 AM
NHS, Department of Health and Social Care, Contact tracing

A report published today by the Public Accounts Committee says the NHS and the Department for Health & Social Care (DHSC) have a long way to go to deal with and move on from, the legacy of their track record of failed IT programmes.

The report also highlights the absence of achieving its paperless target by 2018 and adds that, "This target has now been watered-down and moved back by six years."

This follows the DHSC's “expensive and largely unsuccessful” previous attempt, between 2002 and 2011, at introducing an integrated IT system with patient records available electronically.

The report notes that despite publishing its Vision for digital, data and technology in 2018, the DHSC still does not have an implementation plan for how this will be delivered in practice.

When listing the plans and incentives for delivering on the ground, the current lack of progress with interoperability of NHS IT systems was highlighted as something, "which risks making interoperability harder to achieve in the future."

The report adds: "We asked NHSX how long it expected it to take to achieve interoperability between systems. NHSX was unable to provide a timeframe for achieving complete interoperability, stating that dealing with the enormous legacy of IT systems was an 'extremely complex' process and could take 'years.' "

WHY IT MATTERS

The DHSC and NHS bodies face significant challenges dealing with the current COVID-19 pandemic, however, the "commendable" and fast adaptation of staff has shown the potential for deploying digital solutions and adapting to new technologies. Both bodies are expected to make best use of this learning in their digital programmes.

The report continues to say: "Current governance and accountability arrangements are both overly complex and insufficiently defined. Local trusts are at varying levels of digital maturity and some are struggling financially. Unless national bodies do more to support trusts and local health and care systems in difficulty, then their progress in digital transformation is at risk of diverging further."

THE LARGER CONTEXT

The NHS COVID-19 contact tracing app has encountered a long line of technical issues, with users recently complaining of receiving "phantom alerts" suggesting exposure to the virus and it failing to ask users to self-isolate.  

The rapid arrival of multiple new applications in the NHS has raised concerns about compliance and standardisation – and the operational role of NHSX.

ON THE RECORD

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the public accounts committee, 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.”

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