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NHS database: Digital disaster

The Guardian - The figures speak for themselves. This week's public accounts committee (PAC) report on the NHS national computer system uses moderate language, but ought to cause outrage. It underlines the calamity of a project that was supposed to transform patient care in England but which has instead achieved little except enrich IT consultants and waste billions.

The scheme was launched in 2002, with a budget of £11.4bn, of which £6.4bn has already been spent. "The possibilities are enormous if we can get this right," Tony Blair promised at the start, overlooking the possibility of getting it wrong. The aim was to replace paper medical records with a centralised national electronic database, allowing a patient from Hull to walk into a hospital in Hereford and find all their details ready at the click of a mouse.

It never happened. The scheme quickly degraded into a mass of regional and incompatible systems, provided by two companies, BT and Computer Sciences Corporation, who have been paid about £1.8bn. Neither has been able to deliver even the reduced capability specified in their contracts. BT is being paid £9m to install systems at each NHS site, although other parts of the NHS outside the national programme are paying the same company only £2m for the same systems. For once the cliche is true. The PAC report really is a catalogue of disaster.