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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 November 2006, 12:00 GMT
NHS 'not spending enough on IT'
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The report calls for IT investment to aid patient services
Not enough of Scotland's health service budget has been spent on computer systems which could improve patient care, according to a spending watchdog.

Audit Scotland has warned that NHS managers did not know exactly how much was spent on information technology.

The body also said that future spending targets on IT fell below the levels recommended for the NHS in England.

The Scottish Executive insisted that IT spending was substantial and pointed to a 300m patient record system contract.

The report by Audit Scotland said the executive should improve the way it pays for information management and technology (IM&T) programmes in future by developing business cases.

The challenge is to ensure that it represents value for money and delivers the information that people need to provide services to patients
Audit Scotland report

These should involve "stage gate" funding for all projects, so that funds are released gradually, as projects reach specified stages.

An estimated national IT revenue budget of 65m and 35m in capital falls "well short" of a target of 3%-4% of health spending set by the independent Wanless Report on the future of the health service in 2002, it said.

"Even so, the growth in investment is substantial and will continue into 2007-08 when the revenue budget is expected to be over 100m," said the Audit Scotland report.

"The challenge is to ensure that it represents value for money and delivers the information that people need to provide services to patients."

'Progress made'

The NHS should do more to involve clinicians, managers and policy makers in order to ensure their IT needs are met, it said.

The report stated that the Scottish Executive's health department must ensure consistency across Scotland in managing projects and programmes.

Health Minister Andy Kerr said the report referred to issues on which the executive had already made "substantial" progress.

The important aspect is that funds spent on this area deliver better services to patients
Derek Brownlee
Scottish Tory finance spokesman

Among the advances were the start of the roll-out of electronic storage of digital images such as X-rays and CAT scans, he said.

Other advances included the electronic transmission of most referrals from primary to secondary care using a secure private NHS broadband network.

"And just this week we announced a 300m deal to deliver our principal IT services for the next 10 years," he said.

"This contract includes computer services for very important national systems for cancer screening and child health and also hosts the newly introduced emergency care summary."

Scottish Conservative finance spokesman Derek Brownlee expressed surprise that ministers did not know how much was being spent.

He said: "However, given how casual ministers are about spending across government perhaps we should not be unduly surprised.

"The important aspect is that funds spent on this area deliver better services to patients and value for money to the taxpayer."

SNP finance spokesman John Swinney said: "At a time when there is such a clear demand to improve the operation and effectiveness of our public services, the ignorance of ministers on this subject is breathtaking."


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