Following NHS hack trail reveals other wasted £billions

NHS hack – what a shocker. Even bigger shock: NHS computers running Windows XP, so old that Microsoft withdrew support for it in 2014.

The first question to ask is, what did we get for the minimum £12bn spent on ‘joining up’ the NHS digitally? (Remember Tony Blair’s famous ‘joined up government’?).

The answer is: we got a system based on software that was clearly going to be redundant in the foreseeable future, would then not work properly, and would be extremely vulnerable to hackers.

Worse than that, we got a system that ended up being scrapped. Some put the final bill at £14bn, and still we don’t have a system worthy of the name.

For £12-14bn you could fund the American Mars Mission nearly three times over. So why did we end up with a collection of off-the-shelf computers, stuffed with antiquated and vulnerable software?

Anyone who’s been to hospital recently will recognise the scale of the problem. Staff still wheel trollies about, festooned with boxes of cardboard files stuffed with paper. At reception, your appointment and file will most likely be at the bottom of a teetering pile of ancient files. Or, not uncommon, can’t be found at all.

Joined-up network

Compare this with GP Practices, where you enter your date of birth and gender, and up comes your appointment, and where to go in the building. Your files are on a nationwide system, so if you move location, all your records are easily available to your new doctor.

Why is this? It’s because by the nature of their funding, GPs are forced to practice business acumen alongside their medical competence. There is even a national database, through which you can access your own doctor and request repeat prescriptions online. They are then transmitted to your Pharmacy of choice.

None of this was done using off-the-shelf software. It’s a proprietary build, custom-made to the specific requirements of the GP profession.

So you go digging around trying to find out how the NHS at large ended up with a dead duck. And you find not only that the Government had the wool pulled over its eyes by a succession of fly-by-night IT Consultancies.

You also find a site called Patients4NHS which claims that the NHS ‘market’ is costing 14% of the total budget. That’ll be around £20bn a year then. Can that be right? The NHS ‘market’ is the practice of introducing competitive tendering for provision of specific services.

If this is right, it only goes to prove how useless governments are at running anything. The only two remaining nationalised services that matter a damn to the general public are health and education. And they’re both in a mess.

The shocking reality

And then you follow the trail and you find other avoidable burdens, so here’s a list that should shock anyone.

  • £20bn a year – cost according to Patients4NHS of the internal ‘market’
  • £27bn a year – estimate of cost to NHS of illnesses related to obesity
  • £9bn a year – NHS England estimate of cost of diabetes treatment alone (Type 2, we now learn, can be reversed)
  • 5bn a year – Nursing Times estimate of cost of smoking-related illnesses
  • £1bn a year (average) over 14 years – cost of failed attempt to provide the NHS with a proprietary computer system that works
  • 23m – visits to A&E in 2015/16 – how many of those were alcohol-related do you reckon? Police used to just throw drunks in the cells to sober up. Now they litter A&E, abuse staff and throw up everywhere.
  • 340m – individual visits to GPs in 2014 (hard to find an updated number, but that was a 21% increase on 2007)

The two lessons jumping out from these numbers are:

  • Government (Labour or Conservative) can’t be trusted to put the right processes in place
  • We, the people, have to face up to the fact that we are placing an intolerable burden on the NHS through neurosis, over-eating, and alcohol and tobacco intake. Surely, we have to start taking responsibility for actions we know are going to make us ill?

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