back to article NHS IT projects worth £5bn at 'high risk' of failure, warns HSCIC

The NHS currently has £5bn in IT projects deemed at “high risk of failure”, according to the latest board minutes from the Health & Social Care Information Centre. The ratings (PDF) are based on gateway reports assessing the risk of four IT projects this year. All are related as “red” or “amber/red” meaning successful …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    And yet nothing will change

    These reports have been negative for years already - at least that how it feels - but nothing stops the money pit from growing.

    A private company would have put a stop to the thing a long time ago, I think, or at least a few top people would have been sacked to bring in a little order and get a better handle on things, but this being government, that is obviously impossible.

    What should be possible is taking the people currently in charge away from the project and bringing in people who are capable of getting the job done. However again, this being government, that is highly unlikely.

    The whole thing is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Except this train is tax money going to waste in huge fashion.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And yet nothing will change

      As has been said many times before you do get major project failures in private industry and they can go on for years and are often hushed up (I've even seen the project manager promoted for it!). So, if you're working in the NHS I wouldn't assume things will always be better done elsewhere.

      However, the main point here is that it seems government projects generally get into this state because the government keeps chopping and changing and doesn't define clearly what it wants at the start.

      Good job it's not their money that's being wasted isn't it?

  2. TwoWolves

    Legacy, legacy

    Another remnant of the Blair/Brown autocracy still not put out of its misery. Clearly needed more IR35 enforcement eh?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Legacy, legacy

      IT public sector tragicomedies have been around long before Stan and Ollie and continue to do so even long after their departure. Civil servants, politicians, incompetence, unrealistic expectations and brown envelopes make for a disastrous spec and procurement procedure that always fails to deliver.

      1. h4rm0ny

        Re: Legacy, legacy

        True, but having worked in the NHS during the Blair reign, I can confirm that this really is when a huge massacre of basic NHS principles occurred and the scam of giant NHS IT projects ramped up to unprecedented levels. Corruption is endemic in the DoH. But nothing compares to what Blair and his team did.

  3. h4rm0ny

    And again...

    Everybody involved in this below the level of upper management said that this would happen. It's not as if this is some shocking surprise to anyone at all.

    What gets me is that vast waste like this occurs at the same time the actual day to day running of the NHS is starving for cash.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And again...

      The simple answer would be to fire all the upper management and ban them from ever having a job in any government department or offshoot ever again. That should concentrate the minds of those left to actually do their jobs properly.

      It would also help if those that specify and write the contract documents actually knew what they were doing and had proper default clauses included and policed.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: And again...

        Have commented on here before about a certain senior project Dick - sorry,Richard - on the NHS £12b project (or whatever it was): he was a liability on smaller projects. The one I was involved with saw him decide that the Bank's live customer network had security rules but they were for everyone else, not him, he could plug in whatever he wanted. Everyone knew he 'worked' like that - yet he still got hired for NHS.

        "It would also help if those that specify and write the contract documents actually knew what they were doing " - yes, and face sanction if they get it wrong, or hire people like that, and not be able to hide behind bureaucratic anonymity ...

  4. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Meanwhile the wholesale pimping of patient data continues

    Still can't get it through their heads

    It's not their data to pimp.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Same old, same old...

    This after the £10billion cost of the failed attempt to upgrade NHS computer systems.

    No wonder there's an NHS budget deficit.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lack of accountability, ever changing requirements and awful contracts

    CSC and the big SIs know that once they've won one of these contracts it is gravy train time. The contracts are so restrictive and punitive for small changes it is staggering. Secondly absolutely no-one and I do mean no-one is accountable. Everyone, especially permanent Whitehall senior departmental civil servants know that they can just blame the previous Government and their jobs (and gold plated pensions) are safe. This is compounded by many of the individuals working on these contracts are independent contractors who have little interest in delivery other than eking out there own personal contract for as long as they can. It is in just about everyone involved's interest that these contracts go on and on forever. Everyone stays on deliciously expensive day rates, the gravy train ploughs on and the taxpayer pays. And pays. And pays.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lack of accountability, ever changing requirements and awful contracts

      To be fair to the "Whitehall senior departmental civil servants" it's quite hard when one day the government swears it wants a four bedroom detached house but once the building's started it gradually turns out what it really wants is a submarine!

      As far as I can see from my lowly position this government and previous ones will not listen so there's no point turning round and saying "this won't work", or "what you really want is". What they want these days is for their top civil servants to look at their latest crayon "drawing" and tell them how wonderful it is.

  7. adam payne

    The NHS is crying out that it doesn't have enough money but huge sums of money are wasted on these IT projects that take forever to complete. The NHS then spends more money fixing the issues with the newly installed IT systems.

    Is the scope of the projects just too big?

    Do the projects managers keep changing the project brief and adding additional features?

    Do these suppliers actually send real quotes or just estimates?

    Does the NHS even test the systems before they go live?

    Why does the NHS have to spend money fixing issues with the software? surely this would be the developer paying, unless the agreement with the developer had the NHS paying for everything.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      There was once a relatively simple project rolling out replacement servers in the NHS trust where I was working. I was in charge of the servicedesk at the time.

      Now, I could have done and managed this project. Hell, anybody could have done because it was so simple. I assumed that you'd do more or less this:-

      day -1)Identify what's running on the server. Ensure all data is copied over to new server.

      day zero) disconnect existing server and change config so that everybody works from the new server.

      day +1) one member of staff stays on site to pick up the support problems that always occur.

      So, the time required for the entire project could easily be calculated by number of days required for one site, multiplied by the number of sites, divided by the number of staff deployed. Simple, right?

      Higher management had apparently decided that the job could be done in under half the time it was going to take to do it as outlined above with the level of resourcing. The first project manager left on the morning of his second day, presumably after doing the sums and having a meeting with management about it. The second PM left after 2? hours. The 3rd then proceeded with the project.

      The project did a couple of sites with the obvious methodogy I outlined, before skipping stage 3. The servicedesk protested the absurdly huge number of calls swamping us that this generated, but management told us to deal with it. I ended up booking one of the my staff out for the day to pick up the bits. This was painful because we weren't exactly overstaffed, but what can you do?

      The project team then accelerated their efforts to meet their deadlines by skipping stage 1 entirely, to another tidal wave of servicedesk calls caused by the obvious disasters exploding. The project was defacto halted by word getting around between site managers as to the rolling disaster, and local staff at each site started deploying their security staff against the project team, and when they started just saying "i'm from IT" anybody from the IT department they didn't recognise. The project leader was fired under a cloud of recriminations shortly afterwards and for some while afterwards getting IT staff into these places was shall we say exceptionally difficult if they weren't known to the local staff.

      So, yeah. This is what happens with a relatively small internal project. Imagine what happens when you add an external company to the mix?

      The problems are as follows:-

      1) Systematic incompetence. Incompetent staff who are dangerous and might kill somebody would be fired in normal workplaces. Not so the NHS, they are prized. Before working in the NHS I used to be surprised and outraged by stories of people being killed by incompetent staff in the NHS. Now I just feel weary resignation and by surprise is only that there aren't more cases reported.

      2) the problems at point 1 extend to the management, because of the (hopefully now ended?) program of recruiting managers direct from university. This gets the worst of what are effectively children with no leadership capability or management utility thrust into management positions where their incompetence is only matched by their inexperience, arrogance and level of qualification. Hence truly massive fuckups avoidable by anybody who has a couple of years of practical experience.

      3) Suppliers send real quotes. However, they work to the spec provided. This is delivered precisely as requested, and it's then realised that this wasn't actually what was wanted by the Project Manager.

      4) Testing (or user involvement) tends to cause rejection by the people who realise that the system is crap at an early stage, so avoiding this is preferred to avoid getting the project written off for as long as possible. This is why the favourite electronic management program for GP's is EMIS LV, which was written by a doctor and actually works. If a project is implemented and then just needs "fixing" or "feature enhancements" in order to be used then it's a "success" rather than a failed project, remember!

      5) The NHS has to pay to fix problems with software they design because they generally just hire the developers on a per time basis rather than for doing a job. When the job they are given and the job that was wanted are divergent then you blame the developers and then pay them more to do some more work on it which is another reason why the NHS doesn't do development in house. Nobody to shift the blame to if you do that.

      6) Privatisation is considered a great idea because a company run this way on a fixed budget would go out of business and a competitor would take over the work. This is why GP practices are generally considered to be the best part of the NHS, (ie not completely dysfunctional) as they are actually private for profit businesses and therefore can (and do!) go out of business if they are too highly incompetent.

      1. x 7

        "the favourite electronic management program for GP's is EMIS LV"

        WAS Emis LV. As far as I know all Emis sites have now been converted to Emis Web, a hosted web based version of the database. Emis LV was well past its time and has been withdrawn

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          No EMIS Web here

          Still using EMIS (not web). It has the most useless search capability you could imagine. As is always the case though with EMIS, there'll be jam tomorrow!

          1. x 7

            Re: No EMIS Web here

            "Still using EMIS (not web)"

            Presumably EMIS PCS? Are you in Scotland?

  8. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    the list included the £168m NHSmail2 programme, to provide secure email across the NHS

    168m is a drop in the ocean to most of these big gov I.T projects , but still cant imagine how youd get through that much setting up a secure email service

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      A combination of having 1 million active users and needing to buy a new set of hardware/software/backups, I believe.

  9. phil dude

    solution space, and limiting factors..

    Maybe the problem might be that there are only so many competent IT people in the world, and they are all working on other things?

    In some senses, the whole purpose of government is find those IT providers that can't and this project seems as good a mechanism as any...



  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Define "failure"

    A project cannot be considered a universal "failure" if the companies hired to do the work walk away with a bundle of money.

    If their income depended upon the project being successful, then either the government would be unable to find anyone to sign up to one of their doomed projects, or the lead contractor would have a serious incentive to make it succeed whatever.

    1. Matt 21

      Re: Define "failure"

      Well Mr Smooth, I don't think it works like that.

      You ask me to build you a car with square wheels and I've heard you don't like me saying it's a stupid idea or poking into your business to find out if it'll fit in. So I get on and build you a car with square wheels.

      Not really fair if I get punished because it's not a successful project is it?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Define "failure"

        You ask me to build you a car with square wheels and I've heard you don't like me saying it's a stupid idea or poking into your business to find out if it'll fit in. So I get on and build you a car with square wheels.

        Depends where you are in ethics, professional accreditation and legal culpability. You try finding an electrician to install an electrical socket in your bath, a surgeon to cut off your perfectly fit arm, or a mechanic to disable your brakes. Or indeed fit square wheels. People might want to pay for these things, but they aren't going to happen if the contractor wants to continue to practice professionally.

  11. graeme leggett

    what about the other constituent nations

    By way of comparison how are IT projects in NHS Scotland, NHS Wales and "Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland" looking?

  12. Grikath

    BritGov + IT = ExpensiveFailure

    In other news: Whodathunkit?

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