Nicholas Timmins is the FT’s public policy editor
An election may be coming, but nothing quite forgives total abuse of statistics.
Stephen O’Brien, the Conservative health spokesman, is accusing the government of trying to tie the next administration in to some £4bn’s worth of central NHS IT contracts by completing a deal ahead of the election that is aimed at saving £600m from them.
The claim itself is questionable. But nothing like as questionable as Mr O’Brien’s awesomely awful maths.
Parliamentary answers reveal that just over £6bn has been spent so far out of an estimated £12.7bn cost [the National Audit Office's figure] of the programme. Just 13 big district general hospitals have been given new systems. So the total cost, Mr O’Brien claims, has been “around half a billion per NHS Trust”, as though all the money has gone on just those 13 hospitals.
Which implies nothing has been spent on – hold your breath – choose and book, the installation of digital imaging across England in more than 120 NHS Trusts, the creation of a database that yields the correct NHS number for patients, the growing electronic transfer of records from GP to GP, an NHS-wide broadband network, the creation and operation of the spine messaging system, electronic prescribing, the installation of new patient administration systems in to dozens of community and mental health locations, the creation of – to date – 1m summary care records, the use of the spine to support payments to hospitals: and so on and so on.
To be sure, the full electronic record that is the programme’s big goal is donkey’s years late. Questions remain about whether it will ever be delivered and no-one could describe the programme as a roaring success. But even so…