Letters

I was pleased to read Markus Bolton's article (Down to the wire, pages 18-19, 13 January) about the high cost of prolonged information systems procurement processes.

Often up to half the budget goes into the procurement process, leaving an inadequate amount for the system and staff training.

Because of the protracted process, the purchased system is unlikely to meet the user's needs, which may have changed significantly in two or three years.

I agree with Mr Bolton.

Many procurements have taken more than two years. I was particularly struck by his comment that 'many procurements are now planned to complete within 12 months of being announced in the Official Journal of the European Community'.

In the 1980s we were able to complete procurements in six months, including placing the OJEC advertisement.

As regional computing centres, we would procure a number of similar systems in a single deal. Such is the 'efficiency improvement' of the various reforms and reorganisations in the intervening period.

There were rules and guidelines in those days, and the procurements were usually made by NHS staff without the need for expensive help from management consultants.

Some of the systems bought in the 1980s are still running. The spectacular NHS 'IT failures' of the time were due to managers ignoring the then current rules and guidelines (and, in some cases, common sense).

Consequently, the additional hurdles introduced were unrelated to the problem they were allegedly solving.

Computing was declared a non-core activity, and many experienced staff left (or were forced out of) the service.

Over-complicated procedures and a shortage of experienced staff provided a field day for management consultants.

Most of the procedures were developed by consultants employed by the NHS Executive and subsequently explained (or even implemented without explanation) by other consultants employed by trusts and health authorities. M r Bolton thinks there must be a better way - unfortunately there was.

Keith Clough