Stumbling on with ageing systems is not an option if reform is to succeed

Published: 15/08/2002, Volume III, No. 5818 Page 17

The good news about NHS IT is that there is a real sense of urgency in Whitehall about getting decent systems in place. A national IT programme has been devised and a radical new procurement strategy to deliver it is taking shape (news focus, pages 14-15). The name of the new IT 'czar' is expected imminently .

Unfortunately, but as so often, the bad news follows on from the good. The procurement strategy sets a timetable for getting the major contracts to deliver the new programme in place that can only be described as ambitious. There has already been some slippage, and there will inevitably be more. There is also plenty of room for scepticism about whether the ruthlessly centralised approach can deliver.

Meanwhile, there are worrying signs that at local level interest in IT has waned in the face of national action. Suppliers report that trusts are putting IT procurements on hold in the belief that the programme has superseded their efforts (Down to the wire, page 18).

This is not the case. The national programme is clearly focused on doing some things that, it has been decided, are best done nationally. It will not deliver specialist clinical and departmental systems. And even if all goes smoothly, it will take time for the programme to reach every part of the country.

NHS organisations that decide to let IT slip back down their long list of priorities risk, at best, stumbling on with ageing systems that cannot support patient choice or quality, the core of the modernisation agenda. l