THE UK TORY PARTY, which is expected to win the next general election, thinks it can save a bob or two by axing big computer projects at the National Health Service (NHS).
The Labour Government, along with its close friends at the various outsourcing companies, has been wasting shedloads on expensive computer projects. This is mostly because once you have wasted a few billion you might as well spend a couple more to try to salvage the situation.
However the Tories have decided that there is a gold mine of savings that can be made by blowing the whistle on Labour's multi-billion pound plans. But the terminology is that it will "renegotiate some IT contracts".
The Tories said they were sending "a clear signal of intent" to scrap large parts of the NHS National Programme for IT, Labour's £12 billion plan to allow the electronic transfer and management of health data.
Again, notice the language. A "clear signal of intent" is not the same as "we will scrap large parts of the NHS National Programme for IT". Indeed it is not even saying that they intend to do it, just that they are signalling their intention to do it.
Stephen O'Brien, the shadow health minister, yesterday published an independent review of NHS IT systems that he had commissioned.
He promised an end to Labour's centralised approach to information management, saying the Tories would give patients more control over their own medical records, which could even be held on Internet-based systems run by companies such as Google and Microsoft.
Mr O'Brien also "signalled" that some parts of the current system will be abandoned outright.
But there are a few problems with all this frantic signaling. Government contracts for NHS IT are kept secret for commercial reasons, meaning that the Tories cannot know whether they would face penalty fees or other legal obstacles to renegotiation or cancellation.
Ironically O'Brien admitted that trying to change the IT contracts could actually cost a Tory Government money.
He said, "Until I have had sight of those contracts I will not know the scope of my renegotiation and whether it is cost free or not cost free. The main thing is that there will be a saving."
Quite how he could be sure there will be a saving he didn't say. And he didn't say if that saving would be worth it. After all if a project is completed then at least you have a system. If you just scrap it all you have is an empty bank account.
David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, has strongly criticised O'Brien's plan. He said that putting health records in the hands of commercial firms has lead to questions about their security.
Mr O'Brien insisted that "open source" systems could be more secure. We guess he means open source database software run by government offices, not inviting all the world's under-employed programmers to rewrite the UK's NHS software systems.
Then there is another matter that might lead to the Tories maintaining existing contracts. As the election comes up it will be hoping that outsourcing companies will bet with their campaign chests. Since Labour's been in power the outsourcers have been quite close with it.
It is a win-win for the Tories because they can pretend to try to axe expensive projects, claim they can't do it, blame the Labour government for having to waste the cash, and pocket their new outsourcing friends' dosh. µ
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