The must-read stories and debate in health policy and leadership.

Gerada and Ham

Two well-known healthcare figures have been hired as co-chairs of a new “NHS assembly”, whose role is to “advise the joint boards of NHS England and NHS Improvement on delivery of the NHS long-term plan”.

The co-chairs are Clare Gerada, the prominent GP and one of the earliest and most vociferous critics of the Lansley NHS reforms of 2010-13, and Sir Chris Ham, who stepped down as King’s Fund chief executive at the beginning of the year and was one of the first champions of developing integrated care over competition in the NHS.

Sir Chris said: “I’m delighted to be working with Clare Gerada in chairing the assembly which will have a key role in implementing the long-term plan. We will support and challenge national bodies, the NHS and its partners to ensure the plan delivers improvements in health and care.”

There is a neat symmetry of Dr Gerada’s appointment in particular being revealed at the same meeting where proposals were put forward for formally ditching the most potent aspects of the Health Act 2012.

IT failure

Like many organisations before it, NHS Blood and Transplant has spent tens of millions on a new IT system – and got significantly less than it paid for.

HSJ revealed on Thursday that up to £17m of the £26m NHSBT spent modernising its IT systems would likely now have to be written off as a loss. With that money, NHSBT has built a system for communicating with hospitals and donors and managing contacts and is trying to salvage whatever else it can. Otherwise, it is still using the IT system that had been in place for over a decade.

A PwC review of the project was damning of its failures, which included an NHSBT leadership that had neither the experience nor the necessary oversight to keep track of a programme that was achieving very little. Many of its failures were evident from the beginning and were flagged by staff, who said they were silenced or ignored.

The review was specifically concerned about the heavy involvement of NHSBT’s chief executive at the time, Ian Trenholm, who has since left to lead the Care Quality Commission.

His oversight had “made it difficult for individuals working on the programme to escalate concerns and it also made it difficult for the chief executive to challenge programme delivery effectively and independently”, according to a summary of the review.

Mr Trenholm has been involved in leading big IT projects previously, including a £215m farming payment system that went 40 per cent over budget and sparked a National Audit Office Investigation.

The CQC is also currently spending big on new technology – about £12m in this financial year – and Mr Trenholm’s digital credentials were cited when he was hired last year. As of February, the CQC said its own digital programmes were a “red” risk but was on track to improve in March.

Mr Trenholm’s replacement at NHSBT, Sally Johnson, said the IT project had been rolled out in haste partly because it was feared their existing IT system’s supplier would pull support in 2017 (consequently this did not happen and NHSBT still uses this older IT system).

She argued this made risking a major IT failure the lesser evil than having no IT system at all, which would jeopardise the delivery of blood nationwide.

NHSBT will, however, do things differently next time it embarks on a big IT programme, she said.

The CQC’s chair, Peter Wyman, says both the organisation and Mr Trenholm have reflected on “learnings” at NHSBT and had now ensured “robust governance around our own programme of change improvement”.