In profile: Richard Grander, director general NHS IT

Suppliers were invited to bid for work earlier this month, but experts have said the NHS risks a technology disaster because it has not yet completed vital technical specifications.

Granger was awarded a £250,000-a-year salary to ensure this is avoided, which makes it one of the biggest IT jobs in the world and him the highest paid civil servant in the UK. The pay packet might go some way to relieve his inevitable stress levels.

He took over the role in September last year with the words of NHS chief executive Nigel Crisp hanging over him like a guillotine.

‘Without a doubt, this is the IT challenge of the decade and I am confident that Richard’s skills and experience put him in a unique position to deliver it,’ he said. In other words: ‘don’t let me down’.

Before accepting the job, Granger was the head of Deloitte Consulting’s government team, responsible for clients such as Transport for London and the (then) government departments for education and employment and social security.

No doubt this has contributed to his view of current government IT systems, which have been reported as being jaded, to say the least. His first public appearance after taking on the role consisted of his reading a number of IT suppliers the riot act. He was reported to have described current NHS systems as ‘crap’ and ‘ridiculous’. And, somewhat predictably, he singled out two of the largest IT companies working in the public sector as being incompetent.

But it is an approach that many will see as absolutely necessary if the project is to work.

Where in the past government has taken a softly, softly approach to government IT projects, believing public sector IT disasters will only be avoided through good partnerships, Granger has not been impressed.

He sees suppliers for what they are: businesses, and often struggling businesses desperate for cash at that. The way to ensure they meet his stringent standards is by iron-rod rule. And if that means making enemies along the way, then so be it.

Whether this approach proves fruitful, however, is not yet known. And the next six to 12 months will offer the first scraps of evidence either way.

Last week Granger tasked an independent body called Intellect to co-ordinate an industry view of the NHS IT strategy. It will, according to its healthcare programme manager, Lawrence Harrison, improve suppliers’ understanding of the NHS structure and methods of working.

This will be the least that Granger expects, of course. He will want real tangible results and some highly publicised success stories.

April this year should see a number of contracts being signed with local service providers to deliver services in each geographical area. Work should then start in autumn. Reports of cock-ups, overspends, delays, IT failures and the odd success story should follow shortly after that.

National Health Service reform is at the centre of the government’s political agenda, and IT is the means to achieve this end. Tony Blair cannot afford to go back on promises he has consistently made, and Granger will be all too aware of that.

Granger said he took a pay cut from his position at Deloitte. We can, in that case, assume he means business.

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