The NHS' delayed new IT system faces "significant challenges" as its managers continue to struggle with implementation of new databases, a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) has concluded.
The electronic patient record, originally announced in 2003 with an operating budget of £2.3 billion, has so far cost £6 billion, while complications of dealing with the records of 50 million people have proliferated.
Despite these problems the NAO report commends much of the programme administered by government agency Connecting for Health, highlighting the ambitious nature of the project.
"The programme’s scope, vision and complexity is wider and more extensive than any ongoing or planned healthcare IT programme in the world, and it represents the largest single IT investment in the UK to date," the report notes.
But it then emphasises problems faced by administrators, including delays in the functionality of the National Data Spine and the national clinical record that together look set to cost an estimated £12.4 billion.
While £6.2 billion of this amount will be borne by private contractors brought in from outside the government, £3.4 billion will be paid for through "expenditure by local organisations" while a further £1.9 billion will cover "other central expenditure" by Connecting for Health.
In an attempt to pre-empt today's critical report, heath minister Lord Warner yesterday announced plans to speed up implementation of the nationwide database, which is currently two years behind schedule.
Speaking at the British Medical Association's (BMA) local medical committee conference, Lord Warner outlined a plan to introduce a new committee tasked with overseeing the strategic acceleration of the plan.
"We will fully consult with all professional interests and patients on the nature of the summary record and the confidentiality safeguards. But now is the time for leadership in this area and by that I mean clinical leadership as well," he said.
"We cannot carry on with the cumbersome, outdated and I would say sometimes dangerous paper-based system. It's critical we make the transition to electronic records, and the sooner the better for patients and doctors alike."