Can the NHS get connected?BMJ 2009; 339 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b3647 (Published 24 September 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3647
- Michael Cross, freelance journalist
Whatever the outcome of the next UK general election, which is due by June 2010, the basic model of the National Health Service seems secure. David Cameron, leader of the front running Conservative party, has pledged to maintain the principle of providing a service free at the point of care and to exempt the NHS from otherwise severe cuts in public spending.
However, political consensus does not extend to one high profile reform introduced under Labour—the £13bn (€15bn; $21bn) programme to computerise the NHS in England. The NHS National Programme for Information Technology (often referred to as Connecting for Health, after the agency set up to run it) has emerged as a symbol of what opponents describe as the government’s incompetence in procuring and developing information technology (IT) systems and cavalier attitude towards civil liberties. Fears are now growing, even among the programme’s critics, that populist short term measures may set back the NHS’s already delayed move towards computerising medical information.
In August the Conservative party pledged to “dismantle Labour’s centralised IT infrastructure” and cancel large supply contracts. Instead, it would allow NHS institutions to pick their own IT from “a catalogue of accredited systems.” The policy announcement followed the publication of a Conservative sponsored independent review of IT in health and social care carried out by an expert group chaired by Glyn Hayes, a general practitioner and president of the UK Council for Health Informatics Professionals.1 The year long review is one of the most authoritative investigations of the computerisation of health care in Britain to emerge in the past decade. It considered wider questions than the systems being installed in the English national programme (box), and …