Missing link between Government and IT in the NHS


The Government is investing £2.3bn into modernising NHS IT systems – the world’s largest civil computer programme – but fears have been raised that employees are being left out of the loop.

A survey of HR staff at 21 primary care trusts, from consultancy HealthResources, reveals that more than half of the respondents are either unaware or only vaguely aware of the National Programme for IT (NpfIT).

In comparison, virtually all of the respondents are aware of other key NHS employee initiatives, such as the ‘Agenda for Change’, which is designed to harmonise pay and conditions for staff,  and ‘Improving Working Lives’, a HR good practice programme.

So while HR professionals at the NHS are well aware of major initiatives that relate them directly, they far less aware of other projects that relate to them indirectly.

This could have serious implications for the NPfIT, because it will affect every single member of the service, with projects such as 50 million electronic patient records and standardised computer systems.

“If the modernisation is only seen as an IT project and is not integrated with HR and change management, it will fail,” says Jimmy Bates, senior associate consultant at HealthResources.

“For those that seek to develop their people and working practices and see technology as an integral part of this process, they are the ones that will excel. HR is the key.”

According to Bates, the balance of effort in the NPfIT should be 10 per cent technology and 90 per cent changing people and organisation – focusing on culture, attitudes and beliefs, ways of working, creating the capacity to change, and “winning hearts and minds”. 

“One of the greatest challenges of the modern NHS is to integrate technology and change management to realise service improvement,” he says.

It is not just HR staff who feel they are not being consulted about the NPfIT – many doctors complain that they are being left in the dark.

A survey of 852 doctors, conducted for Computer Weekly and the Financial Times by researchers Medix, showed that 70 per cent of respondents had not been consulted on the programme.

One GP, responding anonymously to Medix, said: “I support the idea of a modern NHS with the latest technology and, as a GP, I am possibly the most important cog in the wheel. But as yet, I have barely had any information.”

The NPfIT says “clinical engagement” is a key element of the programme, pointing to a number of roadshows where Aidan Halligan, joint head of the project, discussed progress with front-line medical staff.

However, warns Bates, HR has to be the driver for change – which remains central to the success of the project.

“Unless the individuals and organisations actually change their behaviour as a consequence of investment in technology, then you just have a more expensive same organisation,” he says. 

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