The plan to put your health records in a computer cloud – the next expensive mistake by the NHS?

New World of NHSX doctor talking to patient once they have digitalised all patient records Pic credit: Gov.uk

NHSX, the new body behind the covid 19 tracing app,is planning a further IT revolution which will be a bonanza for multi national tech companies

Probably everybody remembers the fiasco under Labour to introduce a national computer system linking the whole of the NHS. The ten year programme which never worked properly was abandoned in 2011 after wasting some £10 billion of taxpayer’s money.

But now NHSX, the new body set up by the government in July 2019 without any Parliamentary approval and virtually no oversight outside the NHS, is planning a new national system to centralise NHS patient records.

I wrote about it last week in Byline Times following the publication of a report by the National Audit Office on NHS Digital.

Most of the press reports concentrated on the back story that the NHS was s in a digital mess and that a £8.4 billion programme under way to modernise the system had still not everything right- with 46 per cent of trusts relying on paper for patient records.

The real story was at the end of the report where the NAO raised a red flag about a plan to put everybody’s patient records in a cloud which has still not been fully worked out by NHSX.

It says NHSX is working on creating communication protocols known as Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) which would go through different layers so they could transfer patients’ data from an individual health trust or GP surgery to a cloud. This is similar to people transferring their own personal data and files on their computer or smart phone to a Google cloud.

A NAO spokesman said: “The use of APIs with a data layer, is at an early stage. It does not have a clear scope yet, so we are unable to comment on its implementation, much less how it affects the Covid-19 response. But we note that other parts of government found similar approaches to be difficult and expensive.”

The NAO also revealed that unlike the first failed computer system – which was paid out of general taxation – the new cloud service will come out of general day to day running costs – which means if it goes wrong the cash will be taken from patient services and given to tech multinationals to solve the problems.

More seriously how safe are your records when this happens. Already NHSX has had the embarrassment of computer magazine Wired discovering they had left future plans for the app – publicly accessible through Google Drive – by mistake.

Image how you will feel if your personal health records were hacked and sold on to commercial interests.Or some computer error released sensitive infoirmation. This plan needs to be thoroughly scrutinised before it goes ahead. Or it will be a waste of money and a possible security risk to your sensitive personal information.

HS2 Fiasco: Should these two top Whitehall figures get the sack for covering it up?

Bernadette Kelly, permanent secretary at the Department for Transport Pic credit: gov.uk
Mark Thurston, the £605,000 a year head of HS2. Pic credit: HS2

The damning report by the Public Accounts Committee out today tells you everything you already knew about HS2 – the high speed rail link from Euston to Birmingham and eventually Manchester and Leeds.

This rail line – at one stage facing being scrapped by Boris Johnson – earned a reprieve despite costs escalating almost out of control from costing £55bn when it was commissioned to an estimated minimum £88 billion today. Even commitments to petitioners against the scheme were wrongly calculated at £245m when the figure is now nearer £1.2 billion .And that may not be the end of the story as costs could still rise while the public will get a much delayed service with fewer trains.

The report also shows there is a huge problem with the redevelopment of Euston station – used by millions of mainline travellers and commuters – which no doubt will create another out of control of budget. We still don’t know the real cost for that.

But what I found really distasteful that Bernadette Kelly, the highly paid permanent secretary at the Department for Transport and Mark Thurston, the UK’s highest paid public official in charge of HS2 – he is on an eyewatering £605,350 salary and got a £46,000 bonus despite not keeping public money under control- conspired to cover up their failings and keep information from the public and Parliament.

The report is quite clear desperate officials were well aware that public money was going down the toilet but decided NOT to tell Parliament and be less than honest in the official annual accounts of HS2 to disguise the mess they faced.

Bernadette Kelly revealed to MPs in March that she had undertaken four separate assessments to see if the project was viable last year – but neglected to tell MPs anything about it when she appeared before them. She claimed it was ” commercial sensitivities ” that held her back.

This is serious stuff. As the report says: ” We are disappointed by the Permanent Secretary’s response to our concerns about her failure to explicitly inform the Committee of the programme’s delays and overspend when asked about the general health of the project.

“This was something that an accounting officer should share with the Committee. Failure of an Accounting Officer to provide accurate information to Parliament is potentially a breach of the Civil Service Code and a breach of Parliamentary Privilege. “

To put it bluntly she may have broken the Civil Service code which lays down the ethics and rules governing how officials should behave and she may have lied to Parliament.

In that case I think there should be an inquiry and if she is found to have behaved as badly as that she should be disciplined or even sacked.

Mark Thurston appears to made sure that his company accounts did not give too many hints of the failure to control money. Why he should have a bonus when his costs went sky high – is a mystery to me. He should pay it back and questions asked whether he is the right man for the job..

I agree with Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP and deputy chair of the committee: “This PAC report on HS2 is one of the most critical, in both the transparency of Government and the handling of a project, that I have seen in my nine years in total on the committee.

“The Permanent Secretary appeared before the committee in October 2018 and again in May 2019. In March 2019 HS2 Ltd formally told the Department it had breached the terms of the Development Agreement, and would be unable to deliver the programme to cost and schedule – yet the Permanent Secretary did not inform the committee on either appearance that the programme was in trouble.

“This is a serious breach of the department’s duty to Parliament and hence to the public, which as the report says, will undermine confidence. Furthermore, the PAC was in the dark about serious cost overruns and was therefore unable to do its duty to inform Parliament that value for money .on the project was at risk.”

The United Kingdom used to be regarded as a world leader in upholding high standards in public life. The actions of these two individuals in trying to cover their tracks is more in line with a banana republic.

Wasted: £1.35 billion cost overrun (already!) on the cost of replacing Trident

MPs slam latest Ministry of Defence scandal as typical of 30 years of contract mismanagent

Burghfield Site: Massive cost overrun and six year delay

Taxpayers are set to fork out anywhere between £41 billion ( latest government estimate) and £205 billion ( if you believe the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament estimate) to pay for replacing Trident.

So it is extremely disturbing to discover that the first facilities to allow this hugely expensive military project to start – are already wildly over budget and years behind schedule.

Our present nuclear deterrent is due to be upgraded in 2030 with the building of four Dreadnought submarines and the government is considering ordering new nuclear warheads from the United States. No doubt this will be one of the discussions between Boris Johnson and Donald Trump.

To get the programme on the road the government signed contracts worth £2.5 billion to upgrade three facilities. They will now cost at least £3.85 billion.

These were a new a new nuclear warhead assembly and disassembly facility at the Atomic Weapons Establishment site at Burghfield.

A new nuclear core production capability at the Rolls Royce site in Derby to produce the latest nuclear reactor core designs.

And a new facility at the BAE Systems shipyard at Barrow-in-Furness where the new Dreadnought class submarines to carry nuclear missiles will be built.

After a damning National Audit Office investigation into the projects MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee have produced their verdict on the projects and it is not a pretty sight.

Warning to the public: is your taxpayer’s ,
money safe here?

For a start the whole cost has shot up by well over 50 per cent and we haven’t even completed any of the projects. The worst case is the project at Burghfield whose costs have increased from £1.8 billion to over £2.8 billion and it has gone up 146 pc since first proposed in 2011. It should have been completed three years ago in 2017 but won’t now be ready until 2023.

Similar cost and time overruns apply to the nuclear reactor core programme which will now cost £484 million should have completed next year but won’t be ready until 2026.

And the work at Barrow now costing £240 million won’t be ready until 2022 – some 20 months behind schedule.

Part of the reason for the mess is that the projects were poorly designed and the ministry went ahead before they had finalised the upgrades.

Scathing remarks from Meg Hillier, chair of the public accounts committee
Pic credit: Creative Commons

No wonder Meg Hillier, the chair of the committee, is so scathing today about the waste of money.

“ To utterly fail to learn from mistakes over decades, to spectacularly repeat the same mistakes at huge cost to the taxpayer – and at huge cost to confidence in our defence capabilities – is completely unacceptable.  We see too often these same mistakes repeated.

“The Department knows it can’t go on like this, it knows it must change and operate differently. The test now is to see how it will do that, and soon.

“We expect the MoD to report to us later this year, in its 2020 update on the Dreadnought nuclear submarine programme, on how it is working with industry and other departments to develop and keep in place the skills it badly needs to take forward nuclear work.

We also expect a detailed assessment, of whether the current ownership arrangements for nuclear regulated sites are in the best interests of the taxpayer, to be provided to us by the end of this year.” 

What is extraordinary is this ministry has a track record of over budget and late projects stretching back 30 years. Boris Johnson’s spooky adviser, Dominic Cummings, wants a review of how the ministry runs its entire procurement programme.

I don’t agree with him on practically everything else but in this case he is spot on.

Useful documents: House of Commons library report on the cost of the nuclear deterrent here.

National Audit Office report on the scandal here.

Public Accounts Committee report here.

On Byline Times: Refurbishment of the iconic Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben mismanaged by Parliament at huge cost to taxpayers

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

I have today put out a story on Byline Times some damning findings by the National Audit Office on the refurbishment of the Elizabeth Tower and the Big Ben bell and clock face. You can read it in full here.

The report is important because the government is committed to spending billions of pounds – a £4 billion estimate will go nowhere near the real cost – -refurbishing the Palace of Westminster over a decade.

This project was a tiddler compared to that – originally thought to cost £29 million -now 80 million. And if Parliament’s managers can’t properly manage that – what great mess awaits us over the next decade.

The report also reveals one extraordinary fact which shows that the Victorians were as bad at controlling taxpayer’s money and managing big projects as we are today.

The present building built after fire destroyed most of the old Parliament in 1834 was completed 18 years behind schedule and at three times the original cost.

Effectively the governments of Robert Peel and Lord Palmerson were no better at controlling budgets than those of David Cameron and Boris Johnson today. Plus ca change etc.

Exclusive on Byline Times: How a highly controversial contract to collect data on thousands of English Covid-19 hospital patients was never put out to competitive tender

Image by Syaibatul Hamdi from Pixabay

An expose by The Guardian earlier this month revealed that confidential data from patients being treated for Cofid-19 in England was being collected and processed by tech companies – two of which were highly controversial companies.

Now after persistently chasing up officials NHS England have admitted that the contracts which involved the US company Palantir – run by Trump supporting right wing billionaire Peter Thiel – and British start up Faculty – which has links to Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s chief adviser – were never put out to tender.

Read how they did it on Byline Times here

Back to Work: Restarting investigations

Back to Work even if Westminster is closed – except for virtual contacts

This is just a note to my readers that after an absence of nearly three months I am now back in rather a different England that I left in January.

I have been extremely lucky as the trip I took with my disabled wife sailing round the whole of South America was about the safest place to be at the time – as the ship kept ahead of the spread of COFID 19 until the every end.

Then a very wise captain decided not admit any new passengers or crew when we docked at Fort Lauderdale and only allow passengers to disembark – not even go ashore and return – protecting the ship from the virus.

We then sailed straight for Southampton and were able to dock without facing the terrible fate some cruise liners had to endure where passengers had caught the disease. Cunard deserve a lot of praise for this. I will put up a blog with lots of pictures of what we saw in South America at a later date – as an antidote to today’s gloomy situation.

But now having had to painfully adapt to the new situation and look after and protect my wife from this invisible scourge I am back to investigating from home again.

I have a lot to catch up. I am planning fresh articles on developments on the BackTo60 campaign and the continuing plight of #50sWomen now hit by the fall out from the coronavirus. While I was away their victory at the Court of Appeal to challenge the findings of the judicial review on all grounds was an amazing achievement.

I am also back working for Byline Times which is doing a series of investigations in to the NHS and the coronavirus and I will keep an eye out for any other issues in Whitehall that are being buried by the current crisis.

I also have a number of more long term and complicated investigations – nearly all raised by people who contacted me directly and are taking many months to sort out. You will know who you are but I ask you for some patience as it will take time to get round to them.

In the meantime it will soon be back to business as usual.

On Byline Times: The Cabinet Office, a rushed controversial contract and a revamp of how you will get the right to vote

Cabinet Office building in Whitehall Pic credit: gov.uk

I have put up tonight a very interesting story on Byline Times about a rushed award of a £1.7m contract without competitive tendering to Idox, an electoral management software company, which will change the canvassing system to get you on the electoral register next year and mean sharing data on you held by the Department of Work and Pensions. Read it here.