Recent progress in deploying the Care Records Service under the National Programme for IT in the National Health Service (NHS) in England has been “very disappointing,” and is now at least for years behind schedule, according to the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts.

The scale and complexity of the IT Programme, which is designed to reform the way the NHS in England uses information and thus improve services and the quality of patient care, make its delivery more challenging than similar projects around the world, says the Committee’s report on progress with the Programme, which is published today. The aim for the Care Records Service is for software to be delivered in a series of releases with increasing functionality, and this will be key to convincing NHS staff of the programme’s benefits, “because what has been provided to date has not met their expectations,” they say.

The Programme started with four Local Service Providers, responsible for its implementation at local level across England, but two, Fujitsu and Accenture, have now left. The Department of Health must determine what this means for the strength of its negotiating position and whether the remaining two suppliers can continue to meet their substantial commitments, say the MPs, who add that the £12.7 billion estimated cost of the Programme remains uncertain and that, because of the low level of deploying the care records systems, the Programme is not currently providing value for money.

The report’s findings show that the risks to the successful delivery of the National Programme are as serious as ever, said the parliamentary committee’s chairman, Edward Leigh, Conservative MP for Gainsborough and Market Rasen.

“Essential systems are late or, when deployed, do not meet expectations of clinical staff; estimates of local costs are still very unreliable; and, despite action to secure their commitment, many NHS staff remain unenthusiastic. It is also worrying that, if Trusts decide not to deploy the patient care records systems, the taxpayer can still be obliged to make payments to the suppliers concerned,” he said.

The original aim was for the systems to be fully implemented by 2010, but “the truth is that, while some are complete or well advanced, the major ones such as the care records systems are way off the pace,” said Mr Leigh. Even the revised completion date of 2014-15 for these systems now looks doubtful in the light of the termination last year of Fujitsu’s contract as Local Service Provider for the South of England. And, by the end of 2008, the Lorenzo care records software for the North, Midlands and East of the country had not gone live throughout a single Acute Trust.

“Trusts should not be expected to deploy care records systems that aren’t working properly. If there is no improvement to this situation within six months, then the Department should consider allowing Trusts to apply for funding for alternative systems,” said Mr Leigh.