The BCS: Chartered Institute for IT has come out in support of key parts of the troubled £11.4 billion NHS National Programme for IT, saying that in spite of its failures there was good technology to be built upon.
The comments come a week after the prime minister said he may consider cancelling lead supplier CSC's contract. This week, the National Audit Office warned that such cancellations can be complex.
Today, in a reference to the top-down model of the national programme, the BCS said a "flawed vision" should no longer be pursued. But it said the successful rollout of the NHS data spine and N3 broadband network needed to be built upon, and hospitals needed to promise they would use the programme's central element - electronic patient records.
Ewan Davis, treasurer at BCS Health, said that "while we recognise that for example, the delivery of applications into acute hospitals has proved problematic and painful, there have also been a number of successes.... The key now is to concentrate on the future - the National Programme must now position itself as a platform on which to build innovation".
The NHS needed to "take rapid steps to reintroduce competition among suppliers", Davis said. This was vital in meeting the challenges of the government's proposed changes in the health service.
Davis said that the forthcoming NHS Information Strategy should state "that all organisations providing care ... should be given notice that they will be expected to be using an electronic patient record in a meaningful way within five years". This was because the records, which have proved controversial, were "central to safe patient care".
It was key, he said, that NHS data was "opened to scrutiny" in order to improve quality.
"We have to get the most out of money already spent in the National Programme for IT and ensure that future expenditure is focused on those things that take us forward on this journey," he concluded.
This week the National Audit Office said the programme would not deliver value for money. The comments came after the prime minister threatened to prevent the continuation of a contract with lead supplier CSC.
But National Audit Office director Mark Davies said the fact the government is still locked in a legal dispute with Fujitsu, two years after the supplier was removed from its £1.1 billion contract with the NHS, demonstrated the complexity and risks of terminating National Programme deals.
Davies was responding to questions about whether the remaining suppliers on the troubled programme should see their contracts cancelled. It was outside the remit of the NAO to comment directly on this, he said, but the problems between the government and Fujitsu raised questions over the ability of the NHS to end programme work.
"You have to look at the fact the NHS and Fujitsu are still in discussions two years later, and it's still unresolved," he said.
The Public Accounts Committee went a step further, saying it would demand answers from health IT executives on whether the programme should be cancelled altogether. The committee meets on Monday to grill the NHS chief executive and suppliers.
CSC has said it believes its contracts will stand after the governmental reviews, but the prime minister has left all options open. With regards to the Fujitsu dispute, neither the Department of Health nor the supplier has commented.