Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Spinal Problems

A wise and very scarred old systems project manager once slipped Tyler the Golden Rule of IT budgeting: "if you've got a great systems guy, double the original budget; otherwise add a nought to the number you first thought of."

This excellent advice has always allowed Tyler to bluff his way on such matters, and even sound quite expert. Until now.

As you may know, the NHS is currently undertaking a truly massive systems development project called the National Programme for IT (NPfIT). Its aim is to couple up England's 30,000 GPs to our 300 major hospitals, allowing both to access common records for everyone in the country. It is the world's biggest civil IT project. Ever.

Let's not concern ourselves here with the project's Big Brother aspects, even though it has twice won BB Awards ( "Most Heinous Government Organisation" and "Most Appalling Project"). Let's just concentrate on the money.

It was originally budgeted to cost £2.3bn. So on the Golden Rule for IT budgeting, that translates into an actual outlay of between £4.6bn and £23bn, depending on the quality of the IT guy- with any government project you obviously go for the top end.

But it turns out £23bn won't cover it. Not by a long chalk.

The government itself has admitted to £30bn, and Computer Weekly have been told off the record that it could be up to £50bn.

£50bn! That's 50 Barts/Royal new hospital projects.

What's even more shameful is that most of our health professionals don't even want the damned thing. Computer Weekly reports a survey of doctors, with only 17% thinking it's a good use of NHS resources, and 70% of GPs believing it will threaten the confidentiality of patient records.

And will it actually work anyway? Computer Weekly also reports that the system's backbone, the so-called data spine, went down for 28 hours in the first week of this month alone. In a world without local back-up records that would have been 28 hours in which doctors would have been flying blind.

Scary. I advise all patients to get a full paper print-out of their own records so they can lend it to their doctor when it becomes necessary.

Pic: NASA History

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