NHS Executive attacked over Read codes

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 15 August 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:431
  1. Jacqui Wise
  1. BMJ

    The Commons public accounts committee has sharply criticised the NHS Executive over the way it managed the Read codes project, saying that it had “failed in important and basic ways.”

    The committee's report published last week said that it was vital that the codes are independently and thoroughly evaluated before further spending on them can be justified. The committee says that so far the codes project has cost 32m ($51m), but full implementation will cost many times that amount.

    The NHS Executive has belatedly agreed to carry out an independent review of the codes, and the committee emphasised that such work should be a core requirement of any major information technology project in the NHS. It added that lessons learnt from this project should be taken on board in the new NHS information, management, and technology strategy, now due to be published in the autumn.

    David Davis, chairman of the committee, said: “Had the NHS Executive carried out a proper appraisal of the project and built in evaluation as a core requirement, much could have been done to avoid putting substantial sums of public money at risk.”

    Earlier this year a National Audit Office report said there were “serious problems” with the purchase of the Read codes by the NHS Executive and “substantial weaknesses” in subsequent management arrangements (21 March, p 883). Both reports criticised the appointment of Dr James Read as head of the NHS Centre for Coding and Classification at the same time as his own company had exclusive rights to market the codes, saying that this had created a conflict of interest.

    The Read codes are a system for recording and analysing symptoms, diagnoses, and treatments for use in computerised clinical information systems. The committee concluded that the NHS Executive now faces a considerable challenge in building confidence in the codes.

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