Study sees UK’s health services IT project at risk

A study in the British Medical Journal this week reports that a U.K. effort to centralize patient records on a standard IT system is at risk because local staff are feeling left out of the implementation process.

The program, called the National Programme for IT in the NHS (NPfIT), promises benefits for patients and the NHS (National Health Service) as a whole, according to the study. But researchers found that staff at four hospital trusts in the U.K. where the program is being implemented had an unfavorable view of it, mainly because of poor communication and consultation from NPfIT headquarters.

In particular, staff members feel cut off from decision-makers in NPfIT headquarters, and feel as if local needs and advice have been ignored, the study found.

“The communication has been appalling, absolutely appalling,” said an IT manager at one of the hospital trusts, according to the study. “I’ve been to some meetings where I’ve met people who are very, very good, and … they’ve been ordered and we’ve been instructed that it’s inappropriate to talk to them.”

The problems highlighted in the report are unlikely to derail the project entirely, according to Dr. Naomi Fulop of the Department of Public Health and Policy at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. If not addressed, however, they may lead to further delays for the system and reduce its overall benefits, she said.

“If the front-line staff aren’t brought in at the beginning and are not engaged then they are unlikely to use the system fully,” said Fulop, who is one of the report’s five authors.

In that sense, the challenges the NHS is facing are common to any organization implementing a broad new IT system — but on a bigger scale.

In addition to the communications breakdown, staff at the four centres studied were uncertain as to when new systems would be implemented in the hospitals, and what local funding would be available to support the system once it was in place.

These problems could be a threat to broad deployment of the NPfIT, a scenario that is especially troubling given the rising price tag of the program. The British government allocated