A Commons scrutiny committee has said 'urgent' action is needed to rescue the national IT programme.

In a damning 188-page report the public accounts committee said it was 'unlikely that significant clinical benefits will be delivered by the end of the contract'. The Department of Health should instead determine what will be ready by then 'as a matter of urgency', it said.

But the DoH criticised this week's report as 'a year out of date' and a spokesman said 'substantial progress has been made' in IT development.

The report said the shared patient record is two years behind schedule and alternative patient administration systems were 'not a substitute'.

As the DoH is 'unlikely to complete the programme anywhere near its original schedule', providers should be able to 'select from a wider range' of PAS systems, it concluded.

This was important, the report said, as only two major software providers remain on the programme after the departure of Accenture, ComMedica and IDX. Having only two suppliers 'may have the effect of inhibiting innovation, progress and competition' it said.

This meant a higher burden was now on the remaining suppliers, who were suffering from 'a shortage of appropriate and skilled capacity'.

It added: 'It is essential that chief executives and senior managers in the NHS understand the role they need to play in the implementation of the programme.'

The DoH was also criticised for not maintaining a 'detailed record of overall expenditure' so that. full cost estimates ranged from£6.2bn to£20bn. The committee said final expenditure was expected to be£12.4bn by 2013-14.

The DoH 'did not seek to demonstrate that its financial benefits outweighed its cost' prior to the programme's launch, the report found.

Committee chair Edward Leigh MP called for a 'robust delivery timetable' from the DoH. He said: 'Urgent remedial action is needed at the highest level if the long-term interests of NHS patients and taxpayers are to be protected.'

But health minister Lord Hunt said the findings were based on last June's National Audit Office report on the programme and therefore out of date. He said: 'Since then substantial progress has been made and the NAO recommendations have already been acted on.'

NHS Confederation chief executive Dr Gill Morgan said: 'There are problems the government must tackle, not least the basic functionality of the system.'