Lack of proper plan to make NHS digital risks wasting billions, MPs warn

Attempts to make the NHS go digital are failing and billions more pounds are at risk of being wasted in the absence of a proper plan, MPs have warned.

A report by the public accounts committee (PAC) has found that officials have “none” of the essential components in place to turn around the “track record of expensive, failed IT programmes”. It criticises attempts to create integrated IT systems that allow patients’ records to be shared electronically throughout England.

The report warned that hospitals are vulnerable to further cyber attacks, such as the 2018 Wannacry breach, unless systems are updated.

It comes six years after the Department of Health revealed an ambition to have turned the NHS paperless by 2018. That target has since been pushed back by six years and watered down so that the NHS reaches merely a “core level” of digitisation by 2024.

However, the committee found that the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care does not have a proper implementation strategy to deliver even this.

NHS leaders have said it will need £8.1 billion to meet its digital transformation ambitions, of which £3 billion will need to come from trusts themselves.

Meg Hillier MP, who chairs the PAC, said: “After 18 years of failed attempts to digitally transform the NHS, you would hope that the one success that could be claimed was the learning and change to ensure those failures are not repeated.

“Incredibly, still, none of the components essential to successful delivery of the digital ambition for the NHS are in place, and instead the Government presses on with expensive and unproven strategies and contracts that cost the taxpayer millions but don’t deliver.”

Ms Hillier added: “The response to the pandemic demonstrates it is possible to reset and adopt new digital solutions and technologies. But there needs to be a clear strategy that works with local trusts and acknowledges the financial pressures they are under.”

Saffron Cordery, the deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospital managers, said: “Despite efforts by national policy makers, we know there is varying levels of digital maturity across the trust sector. 

“In recent years, a number of trusts have made huge gains while others have struggled to invest in the technology and skills needed to transform services. But regardless of previous successes or failures, Covid-19 has accelerated digital ways of working across the NHS.”

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