NHS trusts ‘fined millions’ in IT deals

NHS trusts are being fined millions of pounds because they cannot fulfil their staffing obligations under the health service’s new IT programme, it has been claimed.

Trusts across the country have signed contracts to lend NHS staff to computer contractors running the Connecting for Health programme, which includes the new choose and book appointments system, and the creation of a new electronic records database.

But figures obtained by Conservative MP Richard Bacon suggest that in the face of mounting deficits, many trusts are struggling to keep up with their obligations under these agreements – and are being fined millions as a result.

In the south of England, the NHS has been forced to buy itself out of a commitment to provide staff to Fujitsu at a cost of £19 million, the figures, disclosed in a parliamentary answer, reveal.

Mr Bacon, a member of the public accounts committee, says trusts in the north-west and west Midlands also face the possibility of penalties of £6.9 million a year for each of the ten years of the contract with computer firm CSC.

“At a time when hard-pressed NHS trusts are having to make painful choices in order to reduce deficits, they are being forced to pay money they don’t have and release staff they can’t spare, for something they don’t want and which doesn’t work,” the South Norfolk MP said.

“It is surprising that negotiators believed NHS trusts would be able to spare large numbers of staff for this scheme. It is even more surprising that the NHS must pay financial penalties if it can’t find all the expected staff to lend to computer suppliers.

“The NHS is being hit with fines running into tens of millions of pounds, which it simply cannot afford.”

However, a spokesman for the Department of Health (DoH) insisted local NHS trusts were always going to have to carry some of the cost of the new IT programme, and were allocated a budget of £1 billion a year to pay for it.

And despite questions about the effectiveness of the new system, in particular choose and book, where pilot schemes have raised concerns about reliability and security of patient information, the spokesman insisted the IT programme would bring major benefits.

“A small number of NHS staff are seconded to suppliers in order to ensure the design and development of computer systems is fully informed by frontline NHS experience,” he said.

“These contracts were agreed by local NHS management, so the NHS was fully involved in the decision-making process.

“NHS trusts are benefiting from the savings being made from centrally provided purchasing of IT systems, so it is perfectly reasonable that they should contribute to the costs.”