10 August 2008

£13 billion for ...... ?

Connecting for health is the government's flagship computer set-up that will enable doctors (and many others) to access your health data wherever you happen to turn up. It hasn't been a wonderful success. Some even describe it as a fiasco. £12 billion has been set aside for this project and £2 billion has already been spent. But we have essentially nothing so far. Many doctors have been worrying about the security of the data. You can see their point. Putting all the data into one enormous system is potentially rather high risk. But the worst thing about the project is that because it is so complex absolutely nothing has yet happened to help the jobbing doctor. Hospitals have been left with paper records which are often not available when they should be. The development of interim local systems (which might actually be inherently more secure) has been blocked because of the wonderful new national system which is claimed to be on its way.

Now one can see the point of your private medical data being available to doctors around the country but why is the government prepared to sink such vast sums of public money into this enormous project when for most things they want to devolve decision making to a local level? Of course this is the way of the future but plainly this great scheme is pushing at the limits of our IT capability and since this sort of technology is improving and getting cheaper all the time there might have been a case for taking things more slowly. It's hardly the case that government has a good record in massive computer projects. So back to the question: why is the government prepared to go down this route despite the enormous risks and expense? Have you worked it out? It's not much to do with your medical welfare. It's to do with privatisation. It's much more to do with billing and hiving off services than it is to do with your medical care. Sorry if you thought otherwise.

It helps enormously for a doctor to know their patient. Scrolling through computer records is not so easy and bulky paper records are also a problem. Doctors carry a lot in their heads. And there are the things that aren't written down such as the best way to interact with individual patients. One of the biggest moans we have from patients is when they see a different doctor each time. It matters to them and it matters to us. Those few patients that trek from doctor to doctor until they eventually get the opinion they want never seem to feel content. But this sort of thing is now to be encouraged. Dr Grumble was horrified to learn from Gerry Robinson of the new concept of dropping in to any old health worker while you are shopping if you feel a bit 'iffy'. Even Sir Gerry seemed nonplussed. There's a madness to some of this.

This post was first published under another title on 24th December 2007. It has been republished now in response to this article in a Sunday paper. You will see the cost of the system now appears to have risen to £13,000,000,000.

With thanks to Jobbing Doctor who pointed out that in the first draft three zeros were left off this enormous number. The number is so very huge that ordinary notation does not make it easy to read or write.


Jobbing Doctor said...

Would that it were £13,000,000. It is £13,000,000,000 (and that's only what they're prepared to admit!

You have the same thoughts as me!


Dr Grumble said...

Bloody hell another three zeros. I will add them in. Thanks!