“The comically misnamed Connecting for Health will continue to honour its contracts with big companies and to swallow taxpayers’ money for some time to come: up to £11bn on current estimates. The figure demonstrates the truly egregious scale of the previous Government’s incompetence on this issue: this vast sum seems to have been committed irrevocably, even though the project has never achieved its objectives.
“The story is a dismal catalogue of naivity, ambition and spinelessness. NHS managers and officials …were [not] brave enough to question the direction of travel at crucial moments when IBM and Lockheed pulled out of the project early on. Whitehall was sold a grand vision by consultants, software and technology companies charging grandiose fees. It signed contracts that appear to have been impossible to break when the promised land did not appear. Yet no one seems responsible. No one has been sacked. Most of the officials involved have long moved on…
“There have been spectacular failures in the private sector too. But businesses, with tighter controls on spending, tend to halt things earlier if they are going wrong. Many prefer off-the-shelf systems such as SAP or Oracle, which are tried and tested. They know that it is cheaper to adapt their processes, not the software.
“This newspaper is in favour of serious investment in technology, which could play an important part in economic growth. The NHS debacle has done enormous damage to this country’s reputation for expertise in IT systems. The lessons for the future are clear. Governments must hire people who can make informed and responsible procurement decisions. Patients, in every way, are going to end up paying the price.”