Saturday, February 24, 2007

The UK's NPfIT (multi-Billion £ NHS IT project) exhibits more signs of systemic failure

For those who have read my earlier postings on this issue you will not be surprised to know that the saga continues. Now the NPfIT even has its own Wikipedia entry. Defensive routines by those involved seem more apparent by the day, political blustering attempts to conceal the very poor conceptual thinking at the heart of this project - much of which must originate from Downing St. As a colleague noted recently: ' Blair - he's the technophobe who became a sucker for computer salesman. He took the decision to do NPfIT and it will only be undone when he's gone. He's also the idiot who got sold on the ID database, the kids' database, the database of all vehicle movements and all the rest of it.' How he came to do this can be seen from this link.

At the core of this issue is the same intransigent thinking Blair has maintained with respect to Iraq. David Wright-Neville cites 'British military officials [who] have become increasingly exasperated at what they see as Blair's willingness to persist with a strategy ....that shows little signs of yielding any enduring returns for British national interests. Privately these officers are scathing of Blair's intransigence, which many attribute to an egotistical refusal to admit to a significant strategic blunder and to his alsmost devotional personal loyalty to Bush'.

As an aside, I would contend that systemic failure in major technical projects such as NPfIT can also be linked to the failure of politicians, civil servants and lawyers, to grasp how technology works in social systems. It is clear that many of them just do not get it! This may be due to the failings of the English A-level system which forces specialisation from age 16 (after GCSEs) so that many of these folk know little about science and technology (of course the reverse is also true).

The press is now having a field day on the NPfIT project. Recent articles include '£600,000 payout over NHS 'crash' (10 Jan 2007); A Vision of HAL (16 Jan 2007) in The Times; PCTs fail to reach halfway point on choose and book (1 Feb 2007); and 'whistleblowers' are (fortunately) starting to appear- a full listing of recent articles can be seen at this site. Even Private Eye is coming in on the act with "System Failure! A Private Eye Special on the NHS computing disaster - Britain's biggest ever IT cock-up"!

In a recent article entitled 'The NHS computer project is costly and dangerous. Only one man can alter its course', Ross Anderson argues that only a change in Downing St can avert the systemic failures that are already happening and likely to get worse. Under intense pressure Blair has begun to change course on Iraq - it remains to be seen how the Government will deal with NPfIT.

One of the most contentious issues concerns patient opt out. In a recent announcement the English 'Information Commissioner has been told that patients will have the opportunity to refuse to have their details uploaded onto the new NHS medical records system. The news comes just weeks after the Department of Health refused patients that right'.

In Australia, according to ABC radio's Background Briefing, 'The government is bringing in a new national card, called the Access Card. Everyone who uses Medicare, Centrelink, or any government service, will have one. And they're not just normal cards. They have mini-computers inside them that can store data about your name, address and anything else. The government says they're like mp3 players, and big business loves them, but opponents say they're a new version of the Australia Card - an ID card in disguise. And they say that privacy is in peril.' This site covers some of the issues in considerable detail.

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