In an unexpected move, Richard Granger, chief executive of the Department of Health’s Connecting for Health agency, has announced his intention to step down from the post in October.

Following his resignation, Mr Granger, who, according to media reports, is the UK’s highest paid civil servant earning about £290,000 a year, is planning to sidestep into the private sector.

“My decision should be seen in the context of the changing role of the centre of the NHS and the fact that when I took on this challenge I said I would give this job five years,” Granger said in a statement.

“I am proud of what has been achieved by the team I established following my appointment in October 2002,” he continued. “I passionately believe that the programme will deliver ever-greater levels of benefit to patients over the coming years. There remain a number of challenges ahead, but I firmly believe that the leadership of the programme by [health minister] Lord Hunt, [NHS chief executive] David Nicholson and my colleagues will ensure these hurdles are overcome.”

Technological glue

NHS Connecting for Health was set up in April 2005 as a single national IT provider for the Service, to help deliver better and safer care to patients via new computer systems and services. The group’s primary role is to implement the National Programme for IT, which aims to glue the Service together with a single IT system that will mark the death of paper records, at an estimated cost over £12 billion.

The programme’s history goes back to the 1998 Department of Health strategy Information for Health, which called for lifelong electronic health records for everyone with round-the-clock, on-line access to patient records and information about best clinical practice for all NHS clinicians.

The ambitious 10-year project will connect over 30,000 GPs in England to almost 300 hospitals, and give patients access to their personal health and care information, transforming the way the NHS works. The programme has four hey goals: electronic appointment booking, an electronic care records service, electronic transmission of prescriptions, and fast, reliable underlying IT infrastructure and, according to the DH.

Problems and setbacks

But the programme has been dogged with problems and controversy right from the very start. Delays, software issues and wrangles with some suppliers have presented substantial obstacles, and there is some concern that such a unified structure actually goes against the federal essence of the Service, and the fact that many parties are calling for the transfer of power to enable more locally-made decisions.

The effect of Granger’s departure on the programme remains to be seen, but already there are suggestions that its foundations may be rocked by the move.