Thursday, July 27, 2006

The NHS crashes into Mars

Back in 1999, NASA's Mars Climate Orbiter was famously lost due to what can only be described as a cock-up. The Lockheed Martin engineering team behind the Orbiter's construction had chosen to use British imperial measurements, whilst the NASA flight team were using metric. Not a good combination, and the inevitable happened, and a $125 million project crashed into the Martian surface. Obviously this isn't that much different to other Mars projects which fail, but embarassing none the less.

I'm mentioning this because it's a comparison which sprang to mind whilst reading the Spectator this morning on the Tube. In an article a reference was made to how such incompetent mistakes have been shown to occur in the NHS, and whilst they may not cost quite so much in monetary terms, the cost to the availability of services is immense. The details of this cock-up can be seen in this report which details - under the title of "What went less well" - the mistakes made in setting pricing to basic hospital procedures in the NHS.

As a result of data-entry mistakes involving decimal points in the wrong place, hospitals have been invariably charging incorrectly for basic operations which has resulted in cancellation on cost grounds, and the now well known deficits in so many Primary Care Trusts. What's more, the number of people involved in setting internal prices for the entire is a grand total of three. Is it any wonder that mistakes are being made that are rippling through to effect front line service provision?

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