The Department of Health is forging ahead with a service-wide HR and payroll computer system despite growing doubts about the project's feasibility and cost.
The Shared Services initiative will create the biggest HR and payroll system in Europe. It is being driven by Number 10 in response to growing frustration at the lack of central information on NHS employees. Full specification for the system will go out to short-listed companies later this month.
But insiders contacted by Personnel Today fear that the DoH is grossly underestimating the cost and practicalities of implementing such a huge system.
Although the DoH says no budget has been allocated, initial estimates that the system could be developed and implemented for £70m are being dismissed as optimistic. Two sources close to the process independently estimated the cost to be between £160m and £200m. This is equivalent to employing 12,500 extra nursing staff a year.
There is also criticism of the "top-down" way the department has approached the implementation of the system. Given the costs involved, insiders say the DoH will find it difficult to win over local health trusts and authorities which currently use a wide variety of systems.
And the poor track record of government departments in implementing major IT projects is not inspiring confidence. Implementation problems hit the Inland Revenue and the Department of Social Security in the past.
A source said, "The Government had enough problems in the past putting in systems for 50,000 employees, let alone 1 million."
HR directors in health trusts and authorities were made aware of the plans to press ahead with a single system in January.
But insiders say there could still be resistance.
"The whole thing is the wrong way round. It is not the department asking health trusts what they want. It is the department saying what it wants," one said.
"Individual trusts may not want the system and there is no remit for the Department to say to them, 'You will have this solution.'
"The consequences of getting something like this wrong are political dynamite."
The DoH said it has not stipulated any budget in its initial tender and will not put a figure in its final specification.
Instead short-listed providers will be expected to recommend their own budgets for the project.