Back last year, I wrote a piece about totally crap software and how the government is totally incapable of specifying an IT system and is much less capable of delivering the project within budget and time scales, so it comes as no surprise to find that the latest multi-billion pound white elephant is to be subjected to yet another review.
One of the major problems with commissioning work from third party contractors is that there is no incentive to deliver the system. Every time the spec changes – which happens with government work continually – the price changes and, of course, if it doesn’t work properly after delivery then there is the endless debate about what is and isn’t chargeable. I liken it to driving your shiny new BMW off the forecourt only to find it breaks down 50 yards up the road and then being told you will be charged to fix it because it wasn’t being driven properly.
The National Audit Office started to suspect this thing wasn’t going to fly as long ago as August 2004 as you can see from their typically understated concerns here on the BBC website. In February 2007, the Daily Telegraph decided that it was doomed to failure and quoted senior sources at Fujitsu – one of the major suppliers – as voicing concern at the direction of the NHS programme and the lack of vision on how the health service can make best use of new technology.
“What we are trying to do is run an enormous programme with the techniques that we are absolutely familiar with for running small projects. And it isn’t working. And it isn’t going to work,” he told his audience.
As with all things of this nature, there comes a time when the contractor and the government aren’t going to agree and,as, usual, the government is going to blame the people who actually know what they are talking about so in May 2008, Fujitsu were fired. At this stage the project was already four years behind schedule.
So far the costs had escalated from £6.7 billion to £12 billion with worse news still to come when in January 2009, the Guardian reported that the system was on brink of failure, something which should cone as no surprise as some people had been on record as saying this for years. However, the issue refused to lay quietly around and die as hundreds of junior doctors were having their job applications screwed up!
So here we are in 2011, and the costs are now estimated at £20 billion and, according to the BBC, “things are getting worse”
The response? Well, the government announced there will be a review of the project. This is due to start this week.
Tory MP Richard Bacon, a member of the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee and long-standing critic of the plans, said: “It is perfectly clear that throwing more money at the problem will not work. This turkey will never fly and it is time the Department of Health faced reality and channelled the remaining funds into something useful that will actually benefit patients. The largest civilian IT project in the world has failed.”
But the Department of Health said while the original vision “was flawed”, the project still had the potential to deliver value for money.