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04.01.16

Government urged to learn from ‘basic GPES mistakes’

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is urging the Cabinet Office to ensure the reasons behind the General Practice Extraction Service (GPES) failures are “disseminated widely” to keep the NHS from making the same mistakes again.

The Committee claimed the government is not yet learning from past failures in IT projects and is repeating the same mistakes – mostly notably on the GPES, which started around five years later than planned, is over budget and still only provides the required service to two of the eight organisations signed up as users.

The GPES is an IT system designed to allow NHS organisations – including Public Health England, NHS England and CCGs – to extract data from all GP practice computer systems to help monitor quality, plan and pay for services and aid in medical research.

In October, when the PAC launched its investigation into the struggling service, NHE revealed that the Department of Health openly admitted to having misspent GPES cash despite still relying on the service. During the inquiry, it emerged that costs ballooned to four times the original price tag, soaring from £14m to £60m.

But today, the Committee argued that the department also blatantly repeated “very common mistakes” from previous projects – such as adopting the wrong contracting approach, failing to guarantee staff continuity and not undertaking proper testing before accepting the system.

Failings were also partly spurred by ineffective project governance, with the GPES known across the healthcare system as having a highly rotating leadership – 10 project managers in five years, to be precise.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the PAC, said: “It’s incredible that basic mistakes on contract and project management are still being made, from inadequate testing to woeful governance. We keep calling for 'lessons to be learned' and keep receiving reassurances from senior accounting officers that they are. Yet the same issues occur time after time. It’s simply not good enough.

“The government needs to get its house in order, properly address these very serious failings and ensure public money is not squandered in such an irresponsible manner.”

The committee is also pressing the Cabinet Office to review Atos’s relationships within the project and as a supplier to the Crown. The company was the contracted supplier for a key part of the system, the GP Extraction Tool Query – which, according to Atos, has been up and running since March 2014. An Atos spokeswoman also told NHE in October that the company fixed all issues related to that system at its own cost.

But the PAC report said Atos “did not show an appropriate duty of care to the taxpayer” and “appears to have acted solely with its own short-term best interests in mind”.

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