IT Pro is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

IT powering NHS screenings ‘unfit for purpose’ for a decade

Patients are at risk after IT failures are leading to critical programmes missing their targets

Clinician's computer meltdown

Failures in 11 health screening programmes across the UK are fundamentally connected to a "hopeless" IT system that will have been deemed inadequate for the best part of a decade when it is due to be replaced in 2020.

All health screening programmes, such as tests for breast cancer and cervical cancer, have relied on a single IT system that was deemed "not fit for purpose" for health screening by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) in 2011.

And dependency on the National Health Application and Infrastructure Services (NHAIS) is the reason why health screening programmes are failing to test enough people with potentially life-threatening conditions, according to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

"The benefits of screening cannot be under-estimated: if found at an early stage, treatment can be significantly more effective," said PAC chair Meg Hillier MP.

"Yet millions of people are not being screened for serious illnesses like bowel, breast and cervical cancer.

"Our inquiry has exposed a health service that is losing its grip on health screening programmes. Many individuals waiting for delayed results will suffer avoidable anxiety, stress and uncertainty. Those delays also stretch far beyond the Department's target waiting periods."

The PAC examined statistics relating to four of the 11 programmes during 2017/18 as a measure for how screening is performing generally. They found the number of individuals being screened fell well sort of national targets, and that a swathe of eligible people had not even been invited to begin with.

NHS England told the committee during inquiry stages that reliance on NHAIS, which itself comprises 83 separate databases, was a key weakness, while Public Health England said the "IT was hopeless" when questioned.

The DHSC also admitted in 2011 that NHAIS was "not fit for purpose" to function in screening programmes because it was difficult to track a person's history if they moved across geographical boundaries.

NHS England, which has been tasked with overseeing these screening programmes and in some cases the supporting IT system, is not expected to replace NHAIS until at least 2020. This is three years later than initially planned and will cost 14 million.

The delay is attributable to the fact NHS England was working on the replacement project with outsourcing giant Capita. But after the organisation declared it could no longer work with the firm, NHS Digital has taken on the responsibility for replacing NHAIS.

The state of the cervical cancer screening programme, in particular, is alarming given its reliance on 360 IT systems in total including the 83 databases comprising NHAIS and a further 270 that deal with invites, reminders, analysis and results. Some of these systems are more than 30 years old.

The PAC has recommended that NHS England sets out a clear pathway for how it plans to deliver the new IT system, deemed a "risky" project, on time without making the screening service even worse.

The influential committee of MPs also suggested that Public Health England and NHS England develop a more integrated approach to its IT to ensure these disparate systems talk to each and deliver the best service for patients.

IT Pro approached NHS England, NHS Digital and DHSC for comment.

Featured Resources

Four strategies for building a hybrid workplace that works

All indications are that the future of work is hybrid, if it's not here already

Free webinar

The digital marketer’s guide to contextual insights and trends

How to use contextual intelligence to uncover new insights and inform strategies

Free Download

Ransomware and Microsoft 365 for business

What you need to know about reducing ransomware risk

Free Download

Building a modern strategy for analytics and machine learning success

Turning into business value

Free Download

Recommended

Four reasons your digital transformation project could fail
digital transformation

Four reasons your digital transformation project could fail

7 Jun 2021

Most Popular

Russian hackers declare war on 10 countries after failed Eurovision DDoS attack
hacking

Russian hackers declare war on 10 countries after failed Eurovision DDoS attack

16 May 2022
Windows Server admins say latest Patch Tuesday broke authentication policies
Server & storage

Windows Server admins say latest Patch Tuesday broke authentication policies

12 May 2022
IT admin deletes company’s databases and is jailed for seven years
Policy & legislation

IT admin deletes company’s databases and is jailed for seven years

16 May 2022