Thursday, September 28, 2006

Pulling The Plug On NHS Supercomputer

Got the sucker!

As blogged previously, Accenture is about to walk away from its contract for supplying large chunks of the disastrous £20-50bn NHS Supercomputer. It's reporting its full-year results in New York tonight, and will need to tell angry shareholders how it's going to stop the pain.

There are some interesting comments from an industry insider in today's Telegraph. He reckons that while the original bidding process for the NPfIT contracts was highly competitive - thereby driving down the price - it was seriously flawed:

"The people who stayed in [the bidding] fell into two classes. Those who thought they could do it for the price but didn't understand the complexities of what they were getting into; or those that concluded you couldn't do it for the price but were willing to take the risk that the government wouldn't pull the plug on this and that they'd be able to get their money back from changes downstream."

He said the procurement process lacked sophistication: "So much of this public sector procurement is done on the basis of what is the lowest price and not enough attention is paid to the competence of the people who are actually tendering, what is their track record for delivering."

We've blogged Britain's Simple Shopper many times, and here we have a perfect example. Clearly taxpayers do not want government to pay through the nose, but its new macho approach- buying cheap and pushing all delivery risks onto the suppliers- turns out to be just as bad: the suppliers are commercial operators and if they can't make money they'll simply pack up and walk away, leaving taxpayers to pick up the expensive pieces.

And this is not the first time we've seen it. It's precisely what happened with the new National Physical Laboratory, when a half-baked contract was forced through on a contractor who was clearly out of his depth, the contractor ultimately failed to deliver, and taxpayers ended up with a bill that was even bigger than it would have been with a more expensive initial contract. In that case, the contractor actually went out of business.

It's all too reminiscent of that classic episode of Fawlty Towers, when the cheese-paring Basil attempts to save money on building work by hiring the cheap Mr O'Reilly instead of the expensive Mr Stubbs. Unfortunately, Mr O'Reilly nearly manages to demolish the hotel, and an incandescent Sybil has to call in Stubbs to put things right.

Angry taxpayer strikes back

The Supercomputer epitomises everything that's wrong with nationalised healthcare. It's top down, one-size-fits-all, far far too big for anyone to wrap their brain around, and when it fails, everything falls over- rather than just one local hospital.

We go along with PAC members Richard Bacon, the Conservative MP, and John Pugh, a Liberal Democrat, who are calling for the programme to be decentralised and for more control to be given to hospitals locally. As they say:

"The fundamental error made when setting up the programme was to assume that centralised procurement of single systems across the NHS would be more efficient than local decision-making guided by national standards."

A statement that could be applied just as well to the whole NHS shooting match.


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