The national IT programme would be facing even bigger delays if local managers had been given more control, health minister Lord Hunt has claimed.

The minister for quality told the Commons health select committee that one of the biggest barriers to upgrading IT systems in the NHS has been managers' attitudes.

'Without strong national direction that programme would be nowhere near where it is today,' he told MPs at the committee's inquiry into the electronic patient record.

He said: 'One of the problems of IT in the NHS historically is that many senior managers didn't give it the priority it deserved.

'That's one of the reasons we went for a top-down approach. I make no apologies for that because otherwise we wouldn't have made the progress that we have.'

However, he said the programme was now at a stage where managers could, and should, take on more powers.

'It's more important now to get that managerial buy-in and I'm confident we're getting it,' he said.

Committee chair Kevin Barron (Labour) asked whether the NHS local ownership programme, which transfers some responsibilities to strategic health authorities, amounted to 'responsibility without power'.

This followed reports that the devolved powers would be limited, and IT products imposed centrally.

Lord Hunt replied: 'Clearly there's a balance between the benefits of a national programme in terms of value for money, while getting people involved locally as much as possible.'

Department of Health director general of IT Richard Granger added: 'There's a certain paradox; we need strong local leadership but it's about economies of scale. We have to buy things at a high level to make them affordable.'

Resignation

Mr Granger has announced he is to leave the NHS at the end of the year.

The UK's highest paid civil servant - earning a reported ?292,000 a year - is stepping down after five years in charge of the biggest IT project in the world.

Lord Hunt said: 'I would like to thank Richard Granger for his hard work and tremendous achievements in delivering the national IT programme and wish him luck for the future.

'Richard will continue to lead Connecting for Health during the transition period, which we expect to be the later part of the year, and his decision will not affect the delivery of the NHS IT programme.'