• Company slammed for failing to implement doctor data system
  • Department of Health criticized for failures in governance

The U.K. Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee said the government should review its relationship with French computer-services provider Atos SE after describing its project to extract data from family doctors’ practice computers as over-budget, five years late and inadequate.

The lawmakers also criticized the Department of Health for its failure to identify “severe failures” in the so-called General Practice Extraction Service, after the project’s cost spiraled to 40 million pounds ($59 million) from an originally estimated 14 million pounds during the planning and procurement stage. Only two of the eight organizations identified as users of the service have so far received data from the new system.

“The government needs to get its house in order, properly address these very serious failings and ensure public money is not squandered in such an irresponsible manner,” PAC chair Meg Hillier said in a statement accompanying the report published in London Thursday. “It’s incredible that basic mistakes on contract and project management are still being made, from inadequate testing to woeful governance.”

GPES was designed to extract data from the four major clinical IT systems used by family doctors. Atos was awarded a contract in December 2011 to produce the central software required to interact with each of these systems. The panel said Atos “may have met the letter of its contractual obligations but took advantage of a weak client by taking the client’s money while knowing full well that the whole system had not been properly tested.”

Atos said in an e-mailed response to the report that, as one of eight suppliers, it “did not have visibility of the end-to-end program” and was consequently unable to advise the state-run National Health Service on the overall project. “On the part of the system we built, we collaborated fully,” the company said. “Where issues were found, we fixed them quickly at our own cost.”

The committee also criticized the Department of Health for failing to ensure effective governance was in place for the project and for repeating mistakes made in the past, such as adopting the wrong contracting approach, failing to ensure continuity of key staff, and failing to undertake proper testing before accepting the system. It said Atos failed “to show an appropriate duty of care to the taxpayer” and that the company “appears to have acted solely with its own short-term best interests in mind.”

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