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No job for the spineless

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 14 February 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:356
  1. Michael Cross, freelance journalist
  1. 1London
  1. michaelcross{at}

    Michael Cross talks to Mike Pringle as he stands down from his role in the NHS information technology programme

    “Three years in the firing line” is how Mike Pringle describes his time leading the world’s largest information technology (IT) programme’s belated attempt to win NHS clinicians’ hearts and minds. As one of seven clinical leads for the NHS in England’s national programme for IT, Pringle, professor of general practice at the University of Nottingham, was the focus of professional opposition to government plans to make patients’ electronic health records accessible throughout the NHS. He has no regrets. Although critical of the way the programme was originally set up, he remains convinced it is the right thing to do.

    Sceptics, however, who include both main opposition political parties, are likely to seize on his criticisms in an increasingly charged debate over “big brother” government databases.

    Unlike several of the programme’s leading figures, recruited from management consultancies rather than the NHS, Pringle was already known in the healthcare informatics community when he signed up. He has been an IT enthusiast since the 1980s, when his Newark practice was one of the first to be computerised. As a former chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, he was also steeped in NHS politics.

    Unlike some of his predecessors, Pringle stayed the course. “We were the fourth attempt at clinical engagement,” he says. The seven clinical leads were recruited in 2004 after three previous clinical directors had come and gone in less than three years. One consequence of the turnover was what Pringle describes as “a detachment” between the IT programme and health professionals.

    Connecting with general practice

    The seeds were sown at the outset, when the programme was conceived after the 2002 Wanless review of NHS funding. “It was originally seen as a contracting process. That’s …

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