The government's pet technology project, the multi-billion pound NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT), is in danger of failing, lacks the leadership required to stop it drifting off course, and is in danger of morphing into "a camel", according to a senior figure in one of the main contractors implementing the project.
Computer Weekly reports that Andrew Rollerson, a senior healthcare consultant at Fujitsu went on the attack as he delivered a speech to delegates at a conference last week.
"It isn't working, and it isn't going to work," Rollerson is reported to have said. "There is a belief that the national programme is somehow going to propel transformation in the NHS simply by delivering an IT system. Nothing could be further from the truth. A vacuum, a chasm, is opening up."
The project has come under fire from independent computer experts, civil liberties campaigners, and GPs, particularly over plans to develop a centralised database of medical records. Bloated and likely to go billions of pounds over budget, the project has not made good press material for ministers at the Department of Health.
But Fujitsu recently won a £896m contract to deliver the NPfIT to the south of England. Quite astonishing, then, that a senior executive at the company should launch such a damning attack.
The magazine says he went on to warn that despite efforts by firms involved in the project to produce "a racehorse", there is a risk that the end result will be "a camel". He is also said to have illustrated his presentation with images of sinking ships, and people walking on tightropes - all rather grim imagery for a project the government still maintains will transform the NHS.
One slide is headed: "There are never any roadsigns to your destination when you are heading directly away from it", and warns that the whole project is in danger of turning into a mere IT upgrade.
Rollerson described the process as a "gradual coming apart of what we are doing on the ground because we are desperate to get something in and make it work, versus what the programme really ought to be trying to achieve".
He says that despite its enormous size, the NPfIT is being managed as though it is a small IT project, because that is what people are used to.
Fujitsu, clearly mindful of its £896m contract, says Rollerson's remarks have been misinterpreted. Pushing the English language almost to breaking point, a spokesman for the company said he wanted to "refute any inference...that Fujitsu in anyway questions the success of the National Programme".
The government issued a statement saying it would press on with the project, and that David Nicholson (head of the NHS) "sees this as one of his key strategic priorities as it is key to the successful delivery of patient centred care". ®