Updating the IT system of Scotland’s NHS 111 service – NHS 24 – has already cost an extra £41.6 million and is still not completed, the Public Audit Committee heard yesterday.
NHS 24 is Scotland's national health helpline, and provides confidential online and telephone-based out-of-hours health advice to the public. Following an initial assessment, callers are transferred to a nurse, dental nurse or pharmacist
In 2009, NHS 24 began a programme to improve patient service through service redesign and the modernisation of its core telephone and online technology. NHS 24 has progressed the service redesign work; but, the implementation of the new technology, which was originally scheduled for June 2013, has yet to be completed.
The ‘Future Programme’ was budgeted at £75m, but is currently forecast to cost £117m, while Ian Crichton (pictured), interim chief executive of NHS 24, said it could hit £125m in costs.
This happened because key service specifications were missed out of the printed contract, which did not match the online contract that had been repeatedly updated over many months. Asked why there were differences in the two contracts, former chief executive of the phone helpline, John Turner said emotively “that question has tormented me since this came to life”.
Moreover, while more junior staff members knew there were problems, they did not tell Turner. “The management of this project got out of hand, people weren’t reporting things to you… You didn’t manage effectively did you? Because the staff didn’t feel that they could come and advise you,” Martin added.
The contract for the IT system was signed in March 2012, and there is still no launch date for the system, leading Paul Martin, convener of the Audit Committee, to brand it “serious incompetence” and “a complete mess”.
“From my estimation there would be about 1,900 nurses that could have been employed as a result of this overspend… Do you not find that unacceptable? Do you not think that on behalf of the organisation you should not only apologise but the organisation should be ashamed of the fact that it’s found itself in this position?” questioned Paul Martin, convener of the Audit Committee.
Crichton replied: “I think the organisation is not happy it’s in this position.”
NHS 24 expected the new technology to generate savings of £10.292 million over the ten-year contract period, 2013 to 2023.
The committee was assured that the system from Capgemini IT consultants would be up and running this year, and save the NHS money in the long-term.