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Whitehall 'not learning from past IT project failures'

Published 31/12/2015

PAC chair Meg Hillier highlighted 'inadequate testing and woeful governance'
PAC chair Meg Hillier highlighted 'inadequate testing and woeful governance'

Government decision-makers are "not learning from past failures in IT projects" and as a result they are repeating mistakes, according to a new report.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has highlighted what it deems to be severe failures in the creation of an IT system designed to allow the extraction of data from all GP practice computers in England.

The committee of MPs said the General Practice Extraction Service (GPES) started five years later than planned, the project went over budget and still does not provide a full service.

The committee concluded: "Whitehall is not learning from past failures in IT projects, and is still repeating the same mistakes."

The predicted cost of the project reportedly increased from £14 million to £40 million during the planning and procurement stage ,and as it stands only two of the eight organisations identified as users of the service have received any data.

Meg Hillier MP, the chair of the PAC, said: "Once again we see a failure in a Government IT project at huge cost to the taxpayer.

"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 report takes aim at the governance of the project and states that the Department of Health repeated "very common mistakes" from the past surrounding issues like adopting the wrong contracting approach and failing to ensure continuity of key staff.

The report also finds the approach of Atos, the contracted supplier for part of the system, "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".

It urges the Cabinet Office to review Atos's relationships as a supplier to the Crown.

It also calls for lessons to be learnt to "avoid such mistakes being repeated again".

An Atos spokesman said: "We welcomed the opportunity to have given evidence at the PAC hearing.

"At the hearing we made clear that, given we were one of eight suppliers, and not acting as the system integrator, we did not have visibility of the end-to-end programme in order to advise the NHS IC (Information Centre) on the overall programme.

"On the part of the system we built, we collaborated fully with NHS IC adding additional functionality as requested, and where issues were found we fixed them quickly at our own cost."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "Whilst mistakes were made during the implementation of GPES, we are confident that the Health and Social Care Information Centre has taken clear steps to improve the service so that it meets the needs of the NHS and patients.

"The PAC has made some important recommendations which we will take on board."

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