Cabinet Office to review all major Atos contracts in wake of health IT failure

All Atos contracts worth more than £10m now under review after public accounts committee said the outsourcing firm had "acted solely with its own short term best interests in mind" on GP data service

By Civil Service World

07 Mar 2016

The Cabinet Office has launched a review of all large IT contracts held by Atos, after MPs warned that the French outsourcing firm had failed to show an "appropriate duty of care to the taxpayer" on a major contract used by the NHS.

The General Practice Extraction Service (GPES) was designed to allow NHS organisations to extract data from all computer systems used by GPs in England, in a bid to help improve the monitoring and planning of health services and aid medical research.

However, when the system was transferred to the newly-established Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) in April 2013, it did not work as intended, and the public accounts committee said in a report published late last year that Atos – one of seven providers working on the scheme – had failed to provide "proper professional support to an inexpert client" and "appears to have acted solely with its own short term best interests in mind".

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"GPES started some five years later than planned; it is over-budget; and it still does not provide the full service required," the MPs said. "Atos, supplier for a key part of the system, 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."

PAC found that the overall projected costs of GPES have risen sharply from £14m to £40m, and HSCIC is currently considering replacing the system altogether.

The committee last year urged the Cabinet Office to "undertake a full review of Atos’s relationships as a supplier to the Crown".

In its formal response to PAC's report, the Cabinet Office – the central department with overall responsibility for government buying – has now confirmed that it will be carrying out a review "of all current Atos contracts with central government with annual spend over £10 million".

"The Cabinet Office will write to the Committee summarising the findings of the review in summer 2016," it said. "The Department and HSCIC will provide the Cabinet Office with full details of their relationship with Atos to help inform their review. "

The supplier has said it had been unable to test its element of the GPES system in a live environment because it did not have access to parts of the scheme run by other organisations. A spokesperson for Atos said: “We look forward to working with the Cabinet Office with whom we have a transparent and open relationship and we look forward to maintaining our green rating for delivery across Whitehall."

The Department for Work and Pensions last year transferred responsibility for Employment and Support Allowance assessments from Atos to a new provider, Maximus UK, after DWP identified  "significant quality failures" in reports produced by the firm.

The review of the outsourcing firm's major deals with government comes against the backdrop of a wider Cabinet Office-led look at the government's overall strategy for IT contracts.

The government-wide review, dubbed "Ocean Liner", was launched amid warnings that some deals currently provide "little incentive" for suppliers to improve efficiency.

Civil Service World is currently awaiting a response to a Freedom of Information request lodged with the Cabinet Office seeking more detail on the Ocean Liner review.

The Cabinet Office has also accepted PAC's call to ensure that lessons from the GPES project are "disseminated widely" across government  "to avoid such mistakes being repeated again".

Its response said: "Whilst many of the issues highlighted by the Committee took place in parallel with those of the National Programme for IT, they did so in a separate organisation that was not well equipped for technology programme delivery.

"HSCIC has already summarised the lessons learned from this programme. The department will share this work with the Cabinet Office, so that these may be widely disseminated, potentially in conjunction with learnings from other programmes across government."

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