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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006, 11:11 GMT 12:11 UK
NHS computer project under fire
More than four out of five doctors want an independent review of the 6 billion computer system being provided for the NHS in England.

Image of a computer
File on 4: NHS computers
Tue 30 May, 2000BST, Radio 4
Sun 4 June, 1700BST, Radio 4

In a survey for BBC Radio 4's File on 4 programme which questioned both hospital doctors and GPs, 85% said they agreed with the idea of an independent assessment of the system's technical viability.

Only 4% disagreed.

It follows a call for a review of the project by more than 20 leading computer science academics who last month wrote to MPs highlighting their concerns that the system would not be robust enough to meet the demands of the NHS.

The 10-year IT programme will link GPs and hospitals in England by 2012.

It involves an online booking system, a centralised medical records system for 50m patients, e-prescriptions and fast computer network links between NHS organisations.

Deep concern

A spokesman for the signatories of last month's letter to members of the Parliamentary Health Select Committee, Professor Martyn Thomas of Oxford University, told File on 4: "A number of us teach our students about major IT failures.

"A group of us felt the national programme for IT in the Health Service was already displaying some of those symptoms and, rather than stand on the sidelines and end up teaching it as yet another disaster to our students, we felt the thing to do would be to raise out hand and say 'in our professional opinion this programme needs to be looked into'."

"It may very well be that the programme is actually under control and they are aware of all the risks and that in due course systems will be delivered which will prove to be absolutely ideal for all the people who will need to use them. All I can say is it doesn't look like that at the moment."

In response, Dr Simon Eccles, from Connecting for Health, the organisation overseeing the IT project, said: "We have no difficulty with an independent assessment. We would welcome such a move.

"Our view is that we are already under enormous scrutiny, political financial and otherwise. We would be happy with further scrutiny, providing we don't delay the project further while answering yet more questions to explain why the project is delayed."

Invaluable resource?

The NHS computer project has been investigated by the National Audit Office and their report is expected in the next few weeks.

Sixty two per cent of the doctors questioned in the File on 4 survey said they did not think the estimated cost of 6.2 billion was a good use of NHS resources.

Just under a fifth, 19%, said it was.

Dr Eccles told File on 4: "In a time of acute financial crisis it's scarcely surprising that spending money on infrastructure raises eyebrows.

"Where we've already got doctors using the system, they would be the first to argue that not only is it a valuable use of resources, but they would definitely not want to be without it."

The survey for the BBC was carried out by the research company Medix.

File On 4: BBC Radio 4, Tuesday 30 May, 2006 at 2000 BST and repeated on Sunday 4 June, 2006 at 1700 BST. Or listen online - see links on the right hand side of this page.

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