• CQC pulls out of central IT plans after health secretary orders review
  • Regulator says decision not linked to Mr Hancock’s intervention
  • Project to replace IT across four central health bodies broken up into smaller contracts and will include Google software

The Care Quality Commission has pulled out of a joint plan to replace central IT systems after Matt Hancock intervened and suggested switching to Google.

A CQC spokesman confirmed its board had decided in November to withdraw from the plan, known as the future services programme, after working with other central health bodies on the project for nearly two years.

He said the decision to withdraw was not linked to Mr Hancock’s intervention three months prior but “due to the diverse and different needs of CQC’s user groups”.

He added: “CQC is currently considering its next steps through its own future IT services programme.”

The future services programme is meant to replace the current contract with Atos to provide IT hardware and software to more than 12,000 staff across the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England, NHS Improvement, the Health Research Authority and the CQC. The Atos contract expires in April 2020 and cannot be extended.

Work on the replacement contract was at an advanced stage when Mr Hancock, less than two months into his health and social care secretary role, ordered a halt and review of the project in August 2018.

Sources told HSJ at the time that Mr Hancock was concerned DHSC was not getting value for money and hadn’t considered switching from Microsoft products to G suite software (Google).

However, in the months following his decision, several organisations involved raised concerns about delays in the project and a growing risk that a replacement IT service would not be ready by 2020.

A CQC “risk deep dive” presentation in October last year rated the project “red” and noted that “progress is slow in the broader programme”.

In November, the Health Research Authority increased the risk rating of the project, noting it had “slipped with a greater risk of delay which is largely outside the HRA’s control”.

Responding to questions from HSJ, NHS England said the review ordered by Mr Hancock had led to changes to the project, including supporting the use of Google software.

Instead of a single big contract with a single company, like the Atos contract, the project had been broken up and would “leverage a range of existing cloud-based contracts” over the next 12 months.

About half of the desktops across the organisations involved had already been upgraded over the past six months, with the rest being upgraded by the end of March.

A NHS England spokesman said: “The future services programme remains focused on transitioning away from the existing Atos arrangement by April 2020.

“As part of this programme is a technology refresh, alternative technologies and ways of deploying technology are currently being trialled to inform the strategy.”

HRA and DHSC both referred HSJ to NHS England for comment.