Cost of NHS 24 IT system spirals by £41 million

Critics say that the failures risk affecting frontline services. Picture: AP

Critics say that the failures risk affecting frontline services. Picture: AP

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THREE health boards have come under fire after the public spending watchdog found one had racked up a £41 million overspend on a new IT system while another has received emergency cash loans for the past three years.

The findings by Audit Scotland revealed that NHS 24’s new IT system took two years longer to deliver than planned, with costs spiralling by 55 per cent. The delay brought in “additional costs and risks” to the service and the Scottish Government had to step in with a loan of more than £20m to prop up the project, the report found.

The report revealed that NHS 24's new IT system took two years longer to deliver than planned. Picture: Greg Macvean

The report revealed that NHS 24's new IT system took two years longer to deliver than planned. Picture: Greg Macvean

Overspending on GP prescribing, workforce and failure to sell off old buildings meant NHS Tayside failed to break even for the third year in a row, relying on a £14m loan from the Scottish Government in 2014/15.

As well as repaying this loan, NHS Tayside needs to make £27m in savings this year, said Auditor General for Scotland Caroline Gardner, who laid the reports before the Scottish Parliament ­yesterday.

Improvements have been made at NHS Highland following a critical report from the watchdog last year on the 2013/14 accounts. However, the board was told to reduce its reliance on one-off savings and improve long-term planning.

Jenny Marra, Scottish Labour’s equalities spokeswoman, said: “This report lays bare the SNP government’s failure to resource our hospitals properly in the face of rising costs for staff and prescriptions, increasing patient demand and ever more targets.

This report lays bare the SNP government’s failure to resource our hospitals properly in the face of rising costs for staff and prescriptions

Jenny Marra, Scottish Labour’s equalities spokeswoman

“The SNP are quick to take credit for their health policies but they are clearly failing to give our doctors and nurses the funds they need to deliver them.

“We know that the problems in NHS Tayside are mirrored all over the country but the SNP government is really struggling to explain how they will protect our NHS and have no plan to help save it from the cuts that their policies have created.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: The report will be a blow to patients, warned Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw. He said: “This is a singularly unimpressive further audit on NHS Tayside which will be disappointing to those who depend on local health services.

“The cabinet secretary needs to give assurances that a convincing plan exists to overcome these issues and ensure that the quality of NHS spend is on patients and not its administration failures.”

Health secretary Shona Robison said the Scottish Government is working closely with the boards involved to ensure the weaknesses are addressed.

She said: “Despite Westminster cutting Scotland’s budget by 8.6 per cent in real terms since 2010/11 the Scottish Government is investing record levels in the NHS – with the frontline health budget now at over £12 billion for the first time.

“We’ve also ensured that all health boards have received above-inflation increases in their revenue budget this year and I welcome the fact that all boards have met their financial targets for the last seven years, including breaking even on revenue and capital budgets.”

NHS 24 chief executive Ian Crichton said the report outlined “a series of weaknesses” dating back to a botched IT contract in 2011, which the board was working hard to resolve.

Mr Crichton said:“Delays in this major IT programme have led to a significant increase in costs. During the past 16 months an expert team has been working hard to bring the project back on track.

“The new system will be in place by the end of October. It will enable us to continue to provide high quality services, which are even more effective, efficient and safer for patients.”

Lesley McLay, NHS Tayside chief executive, said the health board was facing challenges due to increasing demand.

She said: “With regard to the wider financial challenges, NHS Tayside Board has been building a programme of improvement and transformation since the beginning of this financial year. This medium-term programme, led by clinical staff who are partnered with managers, prioritises the delivery of service improvement.”

Gary Coutts, NHS Highland chairman, welcomed the report and said “robust measures” had been taken to ensure improvements were made. He said: “This report makes the point that it is important for the board to build on these improvements given the challenges ahead. That is something we are determined to do.

“The report also points out further work is required to develop longer-term financial planning and to reduce our reliance on non-recurring savings. Again, this is something on which we are very clearly focused.”

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