The national programme for IT should be called in by government, NHS Confederation policy director Nigel Edwards has said.

Instead, local programmes should be allowed to meet national IT standards.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning Mr Edwards said managers were pessimistic that the programme could improve.

He said: “Levels of pessimism are now such that we have reached the point where the government needs to call this in. We can’t abandon this programme but have to ask: is this really working? We need local determinations about what is needed to reach a national standard.

“We need this programme and need to spend the money but this is increasingly looking like it is not the best way of spending it.”

Six more months
Mr Edwards’ remarks came after a report by MPs said the Department of Health should fund hospitals to buy electronic care records systems outside of the national programme for IT.

In its report on the IT programme the Commons public accounts committee said the DH should give it just six more months before deciding whether to continue insisting trusts use the centrally procured system.

The DH originally planned that all trusts would be able to use the system by 2010 but by September last year only 133 out of 380 had installed it. The committee now says the DH should “in the very near future” assess the financial case for funding trusts to buy alternative systems.

Common standards
In July the DH said trusts could buy alternative systems as long as they used common standards and so were interoperable with the national programme. But officials said trusts would have to pay for such systems themselves as they would not be funded centrally.