Computerising NHS records ‘to cost another £4.7bn’ — for no benefit
A truly British boondoggle
Another £4.7 billion could be spent on computerising the country’s medical records without the project significantly benefiting patients or the NHS, an official report has warned.
Digitising the medical records of the country’s 62 million people was the core objective of the National Programme for IT in the NHS, accounting for £7bn of the total £11.4 billion estimated cost. But the National Audit Office (NAO) warns today (WED) that the £2.3 billion spent so far on computerising detailed care records “does not represent value for money”.
There are also “no grounds for confidence” that the situation will be any different with the remaining £4.7 billion, it concludes.
Computerising records was meant to make create a seamless NHS, where a person could be admitted to any hospital in the country and be treated with reference to their medical history, cutting down on mistakes and saving the NHS billions. But there are now serious doubts that it will benefit patients or medical professionals.
Despite promising to do so last summer, the Department of Health failed to provide an updated “benefits statement” of computerising records to the NAO until last Wednesday.
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said of the project: “This is yet another example of a department fundamentally underestimating the scale and complexity of a major IT-enabled change programme. “The Department of Health needs to admit that it is now in damage-limitation mode.”
Last night ministers faced fresh calls for the whole programme to be scrapped. Richard Bacon, a Conservative backbencher and member of the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee, said: “It is perfectly clear that throwing more money at the problem will not work. “This turkey will never fly and it is time the Department of Health faced reality.”
Simon Burns, the Health Minister, described the project, begun in 2002 under Tony Blair’s government, as an “expensive farce”.
A review of the programme by the Major Projects Authority, a newly-formed scrutiny body set up by the Treasury and the Cabinet Office, is to begin on Monday.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “A decision on the future of the National Programme for IT will be made in June.”
Where are they? 181,000 with expired visas are still in Britain
Around 181,000 migrants are thought to be living in Britain unlawfully after their visas expired, a report said last night. The total includes students and workers from outside the EU who should have left the country in the last two-and-a-half years.
UK Border Agency bosses came under fire from MPs after admitting they have no idea how many have returned home because they do not count people out of the country. A new system to monitor electronically everyone who departs will not be fully in place for at least another two years.
The report, by the Commons Public Accounts Committee, warned the agency not to use the lack of exit controls as an ‘excuse’ to ignore thousands who are overstaying illegally.
Committee chairman Margaret Hodge said: ‘The agency has not got a grip on making sure that migrant workers whose visas have expired actually leave the UK.
‘It estimates that 181,000 such workers are staying on without permission – but it can’t even verify the figures, and does not try to enforce the employer’s duty to ensure that the people they bring in leave when they are required to do so.’ The report also raised fears that British workers may be missing out on jobs because some foreign workers are exempt from the Government’s immigration cap.
Tens of thousands of non-EU workers who arrive every year through the ‘intra-company transfer route’ are not counted as adding to the official limit.
Instead they must comply with a salary minimum, set at £40,000 for anyone staying over a year, to ensure they are not simply cheap replacements for British staff.
Many are IT workers transferred in to work in multinational companies. Last year 64,000 workers came in via this route. But the committee said there was a ‘lack of control’ over transferred workers. Employers can pay up to 40 per cent of salary as accommodation and other allowances, but the report said this made it hard to be sure what the workers were actually earning.
Mrs Hodge added: ‘Most workers enter through this route and, for instance, tens of thousands of IT workers have been brought in through intra-company transfers at a time when UK residents with IT skills are struggling to find work.’
She also criticised the agency for a lack of checks on employers. Fewer than one in five businesses are visited before being granted a licence to bring in workers.
The cap on the number of non-EU workers was imposed from the start of last month, and will allow 21,700 workers in over the year, a cut of one fifth.
After wrangling within the Coalition, however, Business Secretary Vince Cable won an exemption for transferred workers. He also won concessions which watered down reforms to the student visa system.
Immigration Minister Damian Green said: ‘This report demonstrates why the immigration system needs radical reform.
‘This Government has already introduced an annual limit on economic migrants. We are making it more difficult for people to live in the UK illegally by taking action against employers that flout our rules.’
British red tape adviser: ‘community volunteers should not face legal action’
A small step towards sanity, it seems
People who volunteer to help others should not be sued if their well-intentioned acts go wrong, the Government’s red tape adviser has said. Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts suggested people should not have to take out a gambling licence to hold raffles with low value prizes.
In a report, Lord Hodgson said it was time Britons fought back against red tape which was preventing them from helping in their communities. His study, Unshackling Good Neighbours, criticised a “suffocating blanket of red tape and an insidious mythology about being sued are deterring millions of Britons” from helping others.
A key finding was to seek to develop a ‘reasonableness’ test to protect volunteers from consequences of well-intentioned voluntary acts. For example, he said, charity volunteers should be protected from being sued if an elderly person slips on a pathway.
Lord Hodgson, the chairman of the Big Society Red Tape Task Force, said: “As long as volunteers behave reasonably they should not be liable if something goes wrong – the legal framework must make this clear.”
The study also recommends that car insurance could also be cut for people who use their vehicles for volunteering. The Association of British Insurers told Lord Hodgson that it would revise its definition of “non-business ‘social driving’, which currently puts people off using their cars for volunteering because they have to pay higher insurance premiums.
It also suggested simplifying the licensing of fund-raising events, so that people would not have to take out a gambling licence to hold raffles with low value prizes.
The report published a 20-strong list of what people can do to improve their community. They included putting a plaster on a child’s cut, putting up hanging baskets, hanging flags and bunting at events and holding a pancake race.
It also recommended reforming the law to clarify the extent of charity trustees’ and volunteers’ liability to encourage more involvement and participation.
Nick Hurd, minister for Civil Society, said: “Many volunteers, charities and social enterprises are frustrated with the amount of red tape interfering with their day to day work. We do have a responsibility to protect people but it’s clear we need a better balance. We will consider the recommendations in full.”
Sir Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive of National Council for Volunteering Organisations, said: “We are delighted to see common sense prevailing. “Beyond the headlines about conkers and pancake races, this report makes huge strides in setting out how to balance appropriate risk taking with the Government’s duty to regulate.”
Value of degree questioned as research shows two-in-three British graduates fail to find suitable work
The value of higher education has been cast into doubt after it emerged nearly two thirds of recent graduates have failed to find a graduate job.
New research shows recent university-leavers are questioning the value of their hard-earned degrees, and many are considering moving overseas to find suitable work.
‘The UK is failing its graduates. School leavers are faced with difficult decisions. Not only has the cost of going to university risen, but UK employment options are bleak,’ said Sean Howard, vice-president of talent management company SHL, which commissioned the poll.
Researchers questioned 1,000 students who had graduated in the past three years, and found that 60 per cent do not have a graduate job. If these figures were replicated across the population, it would mean around 611,000 graduates have not found a degree-level job.
Disillusioned graduates still loooking for that first step on the career ladder have begun to question whether going to university was worth the trouble.
Given the choice again, 28 per cent – more than one in four – said they would go straight into work, and 8 per cent said they would take up an apprenticeship. Two fifths said they would not have gone to university at all if they had to pay the new £9,000 maximum tuition fees.
The findings suggest around 407,000 recent graduates would not have gone to university under the new fee levels.
While the nearly half of respondents (42.9 per cent) had applied for between one and 10 jobs, one in eight (12 per cent) tried their luck with more than 50. Fourty-seven per cent looked, or have been looking, for work for up to six months, and a third have been job-hunting for up to a year.
In an economy still straining to emerge from recession, graduates are increasingly looking overseas for opportunities, raising the prospect that the UK could suffer from a ‘brain drain’.
More than a third (36 per cent) of those questioned said they would move abroad for a better salary, 34 per cent said they would move away for better opportunities, and 32 per cent said they would live overseas because of a lack of jobs in the UK. Europe was the most popular destination (chosen by 38 per cent), followed by North America (23 per cent) and Australia (21 per cent).
One in four said they would be willing to work unpaid for more than three months to gain experience in their chosen field.
Mr Howard said: ‘Graduates are also under pressure to undertake unpaid internships in order to gain a foothold on the career ladder. It’s not just university that carries a high price, but gaining work experience too. ‘This could mean a future where the best jobs are reserved for those that can afford to attend university and clock up the most unpaid experience.
‘Understandably our graduates are open to the idea of seeking their career abroad, and the UK industry is faced with a potential brain drain. ‘If the Government won’t reconsider the tuition fees, our recruiters need to reconsider their hiring criteria.’
Scientists find “master switch” to controlling human fat
Not those pesky genes again!
Scientists have found that a gene linked to diabetes and cholesterol is a “master switch” that controls other genes found in fat in the body, and say it should help in the search for treatments for obesity-related diseases.
In a study published in the journal Nature Genetics, the British researchers said that since fat plays an important role in peoples’ susceptibility to metabolic diseases like obesity, heart disease and diabetes, the regulating gene could be target for drugs to treat such illnesses.
“This is the first major study that shows how small changes in one master regulator gene can cause a cascade of other metabolic effects in other genes,” said Tim Spector of King’s College London, who led the study.
More than half a billion people, or one in 10 adults worldwide, are obese and the numbers have doubled since the 1980s as the obesity epidemic has spilled over from wealthy into poorer nations.
In the United States, obesity-related diseases already account for nearly 10 percent of medical spending — an estimated $147 billion a year.
Type 2 diabetes, which is often linked to poor diet and lack of exercise, is also reaching epidemic levels worldwide as rates of obesity rise.
Scientists have already identified a gene called KLF14 as being linked to type 2 diabetes and cholesterol levels, but until now they did know what role it played.
Spector’s team analyzed more than 20,000 genes in fat samples taken from under the skin of 800 British female twin volunteers. They found a link between the KLF14 gene and the levels of many other distant genes found in fat tissue, showing that KLF14 acts as a master switch to control these genes.
They then confirmed their findings in 600 fat samples from a separate group of people from Iceland.
In a report of their study, the researchers explained that other genes found to be controlled by KLF14 are linked to a range of metabolic traits, including body mass index, obesity, cholesterol, insulin and glucose levels.
“KLF14 seems to act as a master switch controlling processes that connect changes in the behavior of subcutaneous fat to disturbances in muscle and liver that contribute to diabetes and other conditions,” said Mark McCarthy from Britain’s Oxford University, who also worked on the study.
“We are working hard…to understand these processes and how we can use this information to improve treatment of these conditions.”