Behind the NHS computer boondoggle

Probably the most expensive computerization failure ever

My husband’s business partner, an IT whizz, was offered a consultancy on the NHS project as soon as it began in 2002. It’s a painful memory: “I was getting £2,000 a day. After four weeks, I resigned.” Wait, wait, wait: £2,000 a day is £400,000 a year for a 40-week year. “I resigned because it was never going to work. You could see from Day One it was never going to work. In the room I was working in, there were about 25 consultants, all working a four-hour day. Nobody in the room had any medical knowledge or experience. There wasn’t one person who had any professional understanding of what the system was meant to do.

“One of the reasons it wasn’t going to work was that it was text-only. I was taking my daughter to the dentist a lot at the time. He would take X-ray pictures of her teeth and jaw, and put them on his screen, then he’d build up a 3D picture.”

The idea that two companies, BT and CSC, were building the NHS a system that couldn’t process pictures is incredible. The brave soul who had to confirm to the nation’s geeks and IT professionals that they had been right all along about the dog’s breakfast that is government procurement of IT systems is the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Margaret Hodge, MP (Barking, Labour). She’s not that brave, actually.

She said: “The Department of Health is not going to achieve its original aim of a fully integrated care records system across the NHS.” Oh, poor ducks. I expect they tried jolly hard though. She said: “Trying to create a one-size-fits-all system in the NHS has proven to be unworkable.” Possibly because, as she said, “NHS professionals were not consulted early enough” in the process. Early enough?


A dozen staff at a small NHS trust say they have suffered physical violence at the hands of colleagues or managers

And how is the NHS going to deal with that? By “a series of focus groups”, incredibly

In addition, 100 said they had been the victims of harassment, bullying or abuse from fellow members of staff, far more than the national average.

Board members at the Primary Care Trust in Birmingham say the claims are “very worrying” but have not been reported internally, and plan to deal with them “via a series of focus groups”.

Dr Robert Morley, a senior doctor in the area, told the trade magazine Pulse: “If it wasn’t so serious it would be laughable. PCT staff are saying they are being subject to violent attacks by their colleagues and it would appear are too frightened to report it formally, yet the board’s only response is to set up focus groups and keep an eye on things. It beggars belief.”

The extraordinary reports of physical attacks among health service managers emerged in the minutes of the June board meeting of NHS Heart of Birmingham Teaching PCT.

The papers state: “With regard to the Staff Survey the number experiencing harassment, bullying or abuse from other members of staff remains very worrying but of even more concern are those experiencing physical violence at the hands of staff colleagues.

“The HR department are nonplussed by this since they are not receiving complaints or incident forms nor are they being approached for support and advice on how to deal with such incidents.

“Ms McLellan [Denise McLellan, the chief executive] said that this issue would be pursued via a series of focus groups currently being arranged by Ms Scott [Lynda Scott, Director of Communications].

“The Chairman [Ranjit Sondhi] stressed the importance of keeping a watching brief on this issue. Sir David [Winkley, Vice-Chairman] commented that despite this the report was better than previous years.”

The Staff Survey in question, relating to 2010, was published by the Care Quality Commission as part of its questioning of workers at all NHS trusts. It sent questionnaires to all 419 directly employed staff, 41 per cent of whom responded.

The survey found that no staff had experienced physical violence from patients, their relatives or other members of the public, and that 2 per cent felt harassed, bulled or abused by them, slightly lower than the national average.

However it went on: “3 per cent of staff at the trust [equivalent to 12 people] said that they had experienced physical violence from colleagues or managers in the previous 12 months.

“The trust’s score of 3 per cent was above (worse than) average when compared with trusts of a similar type (note: the actual national average score is greater than 0 per cent but less than 0.5 per cent, so due to rounding it is displayed here as 0 per cent).”

In addition, 24 per cent of staff – 100 people – “said that they had experienced harassment, bullying or abuse from colleagues or managers in the previous 12 months”. This is double the 13 per cent recorded nationally.

Morale is known to be low among staff at England’s 151 PCTs as the entire tier of management is due to be scrapped as part of the Government’s controversial NHS reforms. New groups led by GPs will instead purchase treatment from hospitals, in an attempt to reduce bureaucracy and make the system more responsive to patients’ and doctors’ needs.

Although about two-thirds of PCT staff are expected to be re-employed within new organisations, it is still estimated that it will cost up to £784million in payoffs for the thousands who lose their jobs.


Childhood being eroded by modern life, British experts warn

This is a surprisingly reactionary letter from a group of Lefties. As long as they can interfere in other people’s lives they are happy, I guess. But it is all just assertion and opinion so is not worth much.

Let me make some counter-assertions: I helped bring up a son and a stepson who spent most of their free time as kids playing computer games, with my approval. They are both now happy, well-adjusted achievement-oriented young men who work hard at what they do — one in business and one in academe. So they came to no harm from their computer “addiction”.

I think that there IS concern about the behaviours that young people learn these days but that lies at the feet of moronic “non-directive” modern schools and bombed-out parents. One of my “boys” went to a selective State school and the other to a private school but their genes and their civilized home life were probably more important factors

Childhood is being eroded by a “relentless diet” of advertising, addictive computer games, test-driven education and poor childcare, a powerful lobby of more than 200 experts warns today.

In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, the group of academics, teachers, authors and charity leaders says children’s wellbeing and mental health is being undermined by the pressures of modern life. They urge the Government to address a culture of “too much, too soon” in Britain.

This includes a ban on all forms of advertising aimed at the youngest children, the establishment of a play-based curriculum for infants and a public information campaign warning of the dangers of screen-based entertainment.

The comments came five years after many of the same experts sent similar letter to the Telegraph that criticised politicians and the public for failing to allow children to develop properly at a young age. It led to a debate on the state of childhood in Britain and coincided with the publication of Labour’s Children’s Plan — a policy document covering all aspects of young people’s lives.

But the group, which includes Philip Pullman, the children’s author, Baroness Greenfield, the Oxford University neuroscientist, Lord Layard, emeritus professor of economics at the London School of Economics, and the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Rev Tim Stevens, claims that the “erosion of childhood in Britain has continued apace since 2006”.

A UN report published last week accused British parents of trapping children in a cycle of “compulsive consumerism” by showering them with toys and designer labels instead of spending quality time with them.

The academics say Britain has the “lowest levels of children’s wellbeing in the developed world” and is regularly placed “at or near the top of international league tables on almost all indicators of teenage distress and disaffection”.

The letter adds: “Although parents are now deeply concerned about this issue, the erosion of childhood in the UK has continued apace since 2006. Our children are subjected to increasing commercial pressures, they begin formal education far earlier than the European norm, and they spend ever-more time indoors with screen-based technology, rather than in active outdoor activity and play.

“The time has come to move from awareness to action.”

The letter, which is signed by 228 people, was circulated by Dr Richard House, senior lecturer at Roehampton University’s Research Centre for Therapeutic Education. It calls for major reforms to save children from a “relentless diet of ‘too much, too soon’”.

This should include a public information campaign highlighting children’s developmental needs, the requirement to promote high quality child care and the dangers of a “consumerist, screen-based lifestyle”.

The group also criticises the education system, saying that five year-olds should be given a play-based curriculum in the first full year of school instead of formal lessons. The comments will be seen as a criticism of Coalition plans to subject all children to a reading test at the end of their first year in school.

The letter calls for a ban on all forms of marketing directed at children up until at least the age of seven.

Dr House told the Telegraph: “The inexorable momentum of modern­technological life is such that despite the awareness raised through the September 2006 Telegraph open letter on ‘toxic childhood’, matters have improved very little.

“We also live in an age of seemingly ever-mounting anxiety; and when the adult world is unable to contain and process its own anxieties in a mature way, they inevitably get projected on to children, resulting in countless well-intentioned but often highly inappropriate intrusions into children’s experience that leave children’s true needs misunderstood and neglected.”

Publication of the letter coincides with the publication of a book, Too Much, Too Soon?, featuring 23 essays on early learning and the erosion of childhood.

One study by Sally Goddard Blythe, the director of the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology in Chester, concluded that up to half of children were not ready for school at the age of five because of “sedentary lifestyles”. They struggled to grip pencils properly, sit still, stand up straight and even catch a ball after failing to develop physical and communication skills at a young age.

Mrs Goddard Blythe said: “If I go back 23 years to when I first started to work in this field, the majority of people we saw were those for whom there was a primary underlying cause for their difficulties, such as mild cerebral palsy.

“Increasingly, I am seeing children with no single, obvious cause but general lifestyle issues that seem to be contributing to the fact that they are not developing motor skills in the way they did 20 years ago.

“They are spending more time in front of computer games and electronic media, meaning they have less opportunity to go out and play, explore and take risks.”

Sarah Teather, the Children’s Minister, said the Government was trying to help families but added: “Government can only do so much. As a society, we all have a stake in making sure there is time for family life and children are free to cherish their childhoods.”


British businessman boycotts Jobcentre school leavers because ‘they have no work ethic and spend all their time checking their phones’

A businessman is boycotting Jobcentres [government offices designed to help the unemployed find work] after complaining that the school leavers they sent him trudged in with hangovers and spent all their time checking their mobile phones or Facebook.

Garden centre boss Richard Haddock, aged 54, despaired of the youngsters he was sent and has branded Britain’s new generation of teenagers as having no work ethic and unfit for the labour market. He is now recruiting older people and workers from abroad after abandoning hope of being able to find suitable candidates at the Jobcentre.

The frustrated boss says the only school leavers he now employs are those from his local grammar school. He has stopped advertising at the Jobcentre and has resorted to seeking staff by putting up a sign outside his farm shop at Churston, near Brixham, Devon, and interviewing those who apply. He invites them to work without pay for a two-hour trial and will take them on if he thinks they are suitable.

He said: ‘I have had youngsters sent here from the Jobcentre and most aren’t interested in working at all. They just want their form signed to show they came for the interview.

‘When we have employed school leavers they have generally been unsuited for the world of work. They turn up late, half asleep or with hangovers and spend half their time checking their mobile phones. ‘They know they should not wear nail varnish because they are handling food but they turn up wearing it anyway. If you try to discipline them or help them, they throw it back in your face.

‘I have had a fantastic experience with our local Churston Grammar School where I have taken children from 14 upwards on work experience. They are brilliant and they want to work.

‘I have stopped taking people from the Jobcentre because they don’t want to work. Now we have a sandwich board outside and if anyone is interested I give them a trial. ‘If they do well then I will take them on as an apprentice and put them through their NVQs. I also take on older people. I treat my staff like family and expect the same back.

‘We need to change our attitude to education and stop telling young people they need to go to university and expect to come out to a £50,000 job. ‘We have youngsters who have fantastic potential but we need to help them.’

Mr Haddock is one of Britain’s most high-profile farmers who led the fuel protests in the 1990s and the campaign against the last Government’s Foot and Mouth policy. He runs a cattle farm at Kingswear, near Dartmouth, in Devon, and has diversified into running a farm shop and garden centre at nearby Churston.

Local schools have rejected his criticism. Jane English, head of Paignton Community College, said: ‘There are some fantastic young people out there. ‘We do help our students prepare for work by learning about punctuality and respect. We know most have mobiles but we do explain there is a right time and place to do things.’

A DWP spokesperson said: ‘The Government is now reforming the welfare system and Jobcentre Plus to give people the right support to get into work. ‘We are helping young people into work in a number of ways including setting up work experience and apprenticeships and the Work Programme is now providing tailored support to help jobseekers into sustainable employment.’


British Christian charity told staff to remove cross ‘in case it offends public’

It sounds like a case of “Stockholm syndrome”

Managers at a Christian charity told staff to remove a large cross from its entrance lobby over fears that the item could upset victims of clerical abuse.

The Kenward Trust, a 40-year-old Christian charity for drug and alcohol addicts, was accused of sidelining its religious origins in an attempt to make itself “more inclusive” to clients.

Tony Williams, who lost his job as head of communications at the charity last year, claimed at an employment tribunal that he had been fired for being “too Christian”. However, the tribunal ruled in favour of the charity’s managers and rejected his claim of religious discrimination and unfair dismissal.

Mr Williams, 57, from Maidstone, Kent, claimed that “overtly” Christian items were ordered to be removed from display because the charity’s management wanted to make sure that no one who entered the building felt “excluded”.

Mr Williams told the tribunal in Ashford, Kent, that he believed he was unfairly dismissed and that he had been discriminated against because of his religious beliefs. He said he felt he had been “set up to fail” after he was interviewed for another post during staff restructuring, before being made redundant.

“I did feel that what happened to me was an ill conceived business decision to secure contracts with the secular community and as such I was the sacrificial lamb,” Mr Williams said.

Godfrey Featherstone, a former director of the Kenward Trust, who retired in 2008, backed Mr Williams’s complaint. The 68-year-old told the tribunal: “I was becoming more uneasy that the Christian centredness that was at the very heart of Kenward was, in truth, being sidelined.”

The charity rejected the allegations. Angela Painter, the chief executive of the Kenward Trust, said Mr Williams had been selected for redundancy because he had performed badly at interview.

Mrs Painter denied the Christian ethos of the charity had been diluted. “One of the things we know from our service users was that at times a very obvious big cross can trigger the memory of abuse in a Christian setting which would be upsetting,” she said.

The tribunal found that Mr Williams had been “fairly selected for redundancy” and that he was not discriminated against because of his religious beliefs. He was ordered to pay £500 in costs.

After the hearing, Mrs Painter said one large wooden cross and one large religious picture had been removed from the entrance lobby of the charity’s building in Maidstone. But individual staff members were not asked to remove their own Bibles or crucifixes from their desks.

The trust, which is based in Yalding, Kent, offers recovery programmes for adults who have become addicted to drugs and alcohol and provided treatment for more than 800 people last year.


U.K. Gets Big Shale Gas Find

An area in northwest England may contain 200 trillion cubic feet of shale gas, putting it in the same league as some of the vast shale-gas plays that have transformed the U.S. energy industry.

The figure for the area near Blackpool, released Wednesday by Cuadrilla Resources, a small oil-and-gas company with operations in England’s Bowland Shale, highlights the U.K.’s emerging position as a new frontier for unconventional gas exploration. But it inflamed environmental groups who say the technology used to extract shale gas is environmentally damaging.

“We have as much gas per square mile in Bowland as the successful North American shale plays,” said Mark Miller, Cuadrilla’s chief executive, in an interview. He said the company found nearly four times more gas than it was expecting to discover.

The discovery of such vast resources—200 trillion cubic feet would be enough to meet U.K. gas demand for 64 years—comes at a time when the U.K.’s conventional gas fields are in steep decline and as it is becoming increasingly dependent on imports such as liquefied natural gas from Qatar and piped gas from Norway.

The exploitation of shale gas has revolutionized American energy markets, helping the U.S. in 2009 to overtake Russia as the world’s largest gas producer. Shale now accounts for about 20% of U.S. gas production, but total output is expected to quadruple in coming years. The boom has touched off a scramble for access to acreage in the Barnett, Marcellus and Haynesville shales in the U.S., where much of the new resource is concentrated.

Now the shale boom is beginning to spread to Europe, which also boasts large reserves of unconventional gas. But opposition from environmentalists has been fierce. Shale gas is produced using a technology known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” which involves injecting huge volumes of water, sand and chemicals deep underground, creating fissures—or fractures— that allow the gas trapped inside the shale rock to flow out. Critics fear that fracking can contaminate ground and surface water or even cause gas to leak into domestic water supplies. In June, France became the first country to ban shale-gas exploration.

In response to Cuadrilla’s announcement, the environmental group WWF called Wednesday for a moratorium on shale-gas production in the U.K. and said the country should be more focused on investing in renewables than increasing its reliance on fossil fuels. “The government should at the very least halt shale gas exploration in Britain until more research can be undertaken on both the climate-change impacts and contamination risks associated with shale gas,” said Jenny Banks, WWF-UK’s energy- and climate-change policy officer.

Cuadrilla said a parliamentary committee had looked into the health and safety issues surrounding fracking and decided not to introduce tough new controls on the practice. Spokesman Paul Kelly said Cuadrillaswas trying to provide a transitional resource that would bridge the gap until renewables could be deployed on a realistic scale.

Cuadrilla had to suspend its fracking operations earlier this year after two small earthquakes shook the Blackpool area in April and May. Critics said they were caused by Cuadrilla’s operations. The company commissioned a study by a group of independent experts to determine whether there was a link. They are expected to present their final report in the next few weeks, and Mr. Miller said he was “confident” it would provide a basis for Cuadrilla to resume fracking.

Cuadrilla stressed Wednesday that the 200 trillion cubic feet was “gas in place” and wasn’t the same as the recoverable volume of gas in Bowland, which could turn out to be a much smaller figure. The Marcellus Shale has about 84 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable natural gas, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Cuadrilla has so far only drilled two exploration wells, with a third soon to be completed, but in its “high-end” scenario it envisages drilling 800 wells in the area over 16 years. Cuadrilla said it hoped to be able to present the U.K. government with a full-field development plan by the end of 2012 and start commercial production of gas in 2013.

Cuadrilla’s announcement could lead to sharp upward revisions in estimates of Britain’s shale-gas potential. The country has traditionally ranked low on the list of European shale-gas players, with the U.S. Energy Information Administration saying earlier this year it had only 20 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable shale-gas resources, compared with Poland’s 187 trillion cubic feet. That could now change.


Degrees in “Management” versus “Business administration”

Some British developments

What happens if you are not good at people management

What’s the use of having a first-class degree in law/maths/economics if you don’t have a clue how to get the best out of the people working for you? It is your management skills you need to develop and, increasingly, providers of distance learning courses and other vehicles of executive education are developing products which address that deficit. There is more to business than poring over spreadsheets. The human landscape is far, far more important.

At Ashridge Business School in Hertforshire, the uptake for the new ‘virtual’ Masters in Management course, introduced in April 2010, has been so good that the current 70 students are expected to expand eight-fold in the next four years. It is a remarkable rate of growth, but not untypical of the fast-moving business-studies environment of 2011, where good managerial skills are increasingly prized and education providers are falling over themselves to come up with attractive products.

“About a third of our students are from the UK, the rest from overseas,” says course director Roger Delwes. “Some are from Australia, where we have a reciprocal arrangement with the Melbourne Business School at Mount Eliza, and others from emerging economies, from Nigeria to Eastern Europe.”

Competitively priced at £16,000, less than half what you could expect to pay from an MBA from a good business school, the course comprises a three-term postgraduate certificate, a three-term diploma, a six-month special project and five days of face-to-face teaching at Ashridge. Although there is some flexibility, the full masters qualification is achievable in 2-3 years and would require an estimated 12-15 hours’ work a week over that period.

“Some of our students already have a first degree,” says Delwes, “but most already have several years’ working experience, in fields ranging from financial services to sports administration to the hydrocarbon industry.”

Although most of their students tend to come from the private sector, Ashridge has identified several public-sector areas of work, notably the health service, where enhanced management skills are likely to be in demand.

“Take GPs,” says Delwes. “Ten years ago, they would have spent 99 per cent of their time exercising their clinical skills. With the re-organisation of the health service, they are going to have to learn to be managers as well as clinicians, understanding budgets as well as anatomy. Courses like ours can help them achieve that.”

If the MBA is a familiar part of the education landscape, and can involve some quite rarefied theoretical study, masters degrees in management have a more practical relevance. “People doing MBS are typically investing in their intended future, whereas those who enrol for degrees in management are investing for the present,” says Delwes. “They may have been frustrated by the day-to-day challenges of creating an effective working environment, and want the tools to improve their performance.”

The Masters in Management is the first ‘virtual’ course offered by Ashridge and, in terms of content, is learning-driven rather than curriculum-driven – in other words, students need to relate their studies to their own working situations, rather than get bogged down in abstract theory.

“A lot of distance learning courses require long, uninterrupted hours in front of a computer,” Delwes explains. “We want to vary the mix and get students to apply what they have learnt to their own workplaces, particularly during the special project with which the course concludes.”

If Ashridge has identified a lucrative niche in the market, it is not alone. More and more UK universities now offer masters degrees in management, delivered either on campus, through online courses or through educational models which blend the two.

“The MBA may remain the gold standard in business circles, but the value of strategic management skills is increasingly being acknowledged,” says Barry Blackham, head of curriculum and student experience at the Derby Business School, part of the University of Derby. “There are just so many people in different stages of their careers who need to be taught to look at problems in the workplace in the round, not just make things up as they go along.”

The Derby Business School has a proven track record of delivering online degrees, adding new courses every year. Its MSc in Strategic Management has proven particularly popular in southern Africa, notably Botswana, where there are 45 students enrolled on the course, and Malawi, where there are 80.

Whereas UK students enrolled on the course study entirely online, students in Botswana and Malawi benefit from what Blackham calls “the flying faculty model”. Most of the time students have to work on their own, from textbooks or online materials; but two or three times a year, teachers from Derby will fly out to Africa to field questions and deliver face-to-face classes. In countries where internet usage is not widespread, the human touch is often vital in helping students achieve their full potential.

“They are a very mixed lot, and at very different stages in their career,” says Blackham. “One of the students is the Malawi Minister of Transport, one of the most senior members of the government. Another is a chicken farmer. NGOs, we have found, are also prepared to fund key staff in their extra-curricular studies. But, if the students have arrived at us via different routes, they all seem to benefit from the course, mainly because it has direct application to their work.”

One of the key modules in the course, which typically takes between two and three years, is Decision Analysis, which focuses on long-term strategic planning, particularly its financial aspects. “You’re not going to turn people who are not mathematically gifted into brilliant statisticians,” says Blackham. “But what you can do is help them find their way around statistical reports prepared by others, and give them the intellectual confidence to deal with accountants, economic analysts and the like.”

And it is not just individual managers and would-be managers benefiting from the new trends in executive education. Large and medium-sized companies are increasingly turning to business schools to help them resolve organisational and managerial issues that would once have been handled in-house.

‘Our clients include some of the top FTSE companies, as well as major companies in the USA, Australia, Canada and other countries,’ says Bill Shedden, director of the Centre for Customised Executive Development at the Cranfield School of Management, part of Cranfield University in Hertfordshire, the UK’s only wholly postgraduate university.

Companies which use Cranfield’s services are typically looking for a strategy for developing a cadre of middle and senior managers or for implementing major organisational change. “They don’t expect us to tell them what they do,” says Shedden. “They expect us to work with them to come up with solutions that are tailored to their needs. Those solutions, increasingly, will involve such teaching tools as network learning and ‘webinars’, where you can work face-to-face with someone on the other side of the world.”

A once leisurely world of residential staff colleges and week-long conferences at five-star hotels has been superseded by a much more concentrated form of executive education”Companies are under pressure to show tangible results quickly,’ says Shedden. ‘They have also had to cut down on travel costs and are reluctant to let key staff take time off for study purposes.”

It is a fast-changing environment and, as Shedden acknowledges, business schools have to learn from the mistakes of the past. “With the emergence of the net, a lot of schools thought e-learning was the future and put a lot of effort into developing appropriate online material. But that’s where they came unstuck. All they were basically offering was sophisticated books which were readable on a computer. But how many senior bankers or businessmen would have the time or inclination to read such books?”

Flexibility is the new by-word, with increasing emphasis on interactive forms of learning. A company in the United States or Australia which deployed Cranfield’s services might start off with a short immersion period, with managers studying podcasts and online material, but after that the group would be as important as the individual in the learning process.

“We recently did a full-blown business simulation with a company in Miami,” says Shedden. “The entire exercise was virtual, with nobody having to move from their desks. But it was a huge success in education terms.”

In a complex business world, learning the art of good management has never been harder. The good news is that there have probably never been more diverse or innovative ways to teach managers to manage.



About jonjayray

I am former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, former anarcho-capitalist and former member of the British Conservative party. The kneejerk response of the Green/Left to people who challenge them is to say that the challenger is in the pay of "Big Oil", "Big Business", "Big Pharma", "Exxon-Mobil", "The Pioneer Fund" or some other entity that they see, in their childish way, as a boogeyman. So I think it might be useful for me to point out that I have NEVER received one cent from anybody by way of support for what I write. As a retired person, I live entirely on my own investments. I do not work for anybody and I am not beholden to anybody
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