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Tony Collins is an investigative and campaigning journalist and former Executive Editor at Computer Weekly. With his friend and colleague David Bicknell he wrote "Crash", which found common factors in the world's largest public and private sector IT-related failures. He wrote "Open Verdict", a book on the strange deaths of defence scientists. He writes, and gives talks, on the tensions and disputes between suppliers and users.

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The DH documents that mock open government

Officials have published these two NPfIT Gateway Reviews with all of the important information removed.

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Below are some of the edits in two NPfIT Gateway Reviews that officials published after removing all useful information.

The published portions of the reviews exclude all information on the progress or otherwise of the projects under scrutiny. All of the findings and recommendations in each review have also been excluded. 

One of the Gateway reviews is on the benefits of the £620m BT-supplied NPfIT data spine

The other is on the readiness for service of GP Systems of Choice. All information on the state of the projects is replaced with the word “redacted” - the civil service euphemism for “removed”. 

The Cabinet Office has stated that it will “require departments to publish Gateway reports” by the end of December 2011.

It hasn’t happened yet, though Downing Street says it wants the coalition to be the most "open and transparent government in the world”.

The published NPfIT-related Gateway reviews that were carried out before 2008 have the benefit of the recommendations of the reviewers and their “traffic light” assessments of projects. 

But the two most recent Gateway reviews to be published, one dated 2008 and the other 2009, have no red/amber/green status, findings or recommendations.  Officials at the Department of Health and CfH would surely have known that the removal of all the important information from these reviews would have made their publication pointless.

Below I’ve shown the extensiveness of the edits, or “redactions”. 

BT Data Spine Gateway Review

The first of the two most recent NPfIT Gateway reviews to be published is on the data spine which holds the Summary Care Record database. 

The spine also provides a messaging and secure authentication to NPfIT services including Choose and Book, Picture Archiving and Communications Systems PACS and an exchange of records between GPs - GP2GP. A contract “re-set” which increased the price of the spine contract was agreed in March 2008.

The Gate 5 was carried out in November 2008.  

The purpose of the review was to “confirm that the desired benefits of the project are being achieved, and the business changes are operating smoothly”.  

These were the findings of the data spine Gateway review as published on the website of NHS Connecting for Health. 

Summary of Report Recommendations

The Review Team makes the following recommendations which are prioritized using the definitions below:

1.  [recommendation redacted]         Critical/essential/recommended [text redacted]
2.  [recommendation redacted]         Critical/essential/recommended [text redacted]
3.  [recommendation redacted]         Critical/essential/recommended [text redacted]
4.  [recommendation redacted]         Critical/essential/recommended [text redacted]
5.  [recommendation redacted]         Critical/essential/recommended [text redacted]
6.  [recommendation redacted]         Critical/essential/recommended [text redacted]
7.  [recommendation redacted]         Critical/essential/recommended [text redacted]

Critical means “do now”, essential means “do by” and recommended means the project or programme would benefit from the uptake of the recommendation.

Delivery Confidence Assessment 

[The Delivery Confidence Assessment gives the project a red, amber/red, amber, amber/green or green traffic light. Green shows a project highly likely to succeed, and red indicates that it appears to be unachievable.]

<text redacted>

Findings and Recommendations

<text redacted>

NPfIT/BT data spine project avoided 20-point Gateway check 

There is one disclosure of note in the published review: that the data spine project was not subjected to a Gate 4 - readiness for service. So there was a five-year gap between the Gateway 3 in 2003 and the Gateway 5 in 2008. There is no explanation for this failure. At the time all Gateway Reviews, from zero to five,  were mandatory on large, high-risk projects within central government. 

This means the BT data spine project missed a Gate 4 check on whether: 

- the current phase of the contract was properly completed and documentation completed
- the contractual arrangements were up-to-date
- the Business Case was still valid and unaffected by internal and external events or changes
- the original projected business benefit was likely to be achieved
- there were processes and procedures to ensure long-term success of the project
- all necessary testing had been done including business integration and user acceptance testing, to the client’s satisfaction 
- all ongoing risks and issues were being managed effectively and did not threaten
- the risk of proceeding with the implementation where there are any unresolved issues had been evaluated
- the business had the necessary resources and was ready to implement the services
and the business change
- the client and supplier implementation plans were still achievable
- there were management and organisational controls to manage the project through
implementation and operation
- the contract management arrangements were in place to manage the operational phase of
the contract
- the arrangements for handover of the project from the Senior Responsible Owner to the operational business owner were satisfactory
- all parties had agreed plans for training, communication, rollout, production release and
support as required
- all parties had agreed plans for managing risk
- there were client-side plans for managing the working relationship, with reporting
arrangements at appropriate levels in the organisation, reciprocated on the supplier side
-  information assurance accreditation/certification was in place
- defects or incomplete works were identified and recorded
- lessons for future projects were identified and recorded
- there had been an evaluation of actions taken to implement recommendations made in any earlier assessment of deliverability.

GP Systems of Choice Gateway Review 

GP Systems of Choice gave GPs a choice of centrally-funded IT from suppliers other than the NPfIT local service providers.  

Gate 4 on GPSoC was carried out in February 2009. It is the most recent Gateway review to be published on NHS Connecting for Health’s website.

Summary of Report Recommendations

The Review Team makes the following recommendations which are prioritized using the definitions below

1.  [recommendation redacted]         Critical/essential/recommended [text redacted]
2.  [recommendation redacted]         Critical/essential/recommended [text redacted]
3.  [recommendation redacted]         Critical/essential/recommended [text redacted]
4.  [recommendation redacted]         Critical/essential/recommended [text redacted]
5.  [recommendation redacted]         Critical/essential/recommended [text redacted]

Delivery Confidence Assessment 

<text redacted>

Findings and recommendations

<text redacted>


A Gateway review is not an exposé of Britain’s nuclear secrets. It is a report on the progress or lack of progress on a large and risky IT project or programme. Yet the desire for secrecy over Gateway reviews borders on the obsessive. 

Sometimes the reviews incorrectly praise the progress and management of doomed projects, such as Firecontrol which has been recently cancelled. 

If all Gateway reports were published, stakeholders and others would be able to see if the reviews had been realistic, tough or servile in the light of a project’s outcome. Without publication, Gateway reviewers can say essentially what they like: they can accept at face value all they are told by the project’s enthusiasts, which makes for an easy life but wastes public money. Each Gateway review costs thousands of pounds.  

If the Cabinet Office allows Gateway reviews to be published with such oppressive edits as those seen above, it is allowing civil servants to make a mockery of the term open government. It is also denying stakeholders - including potential end-users - the chance to see if a project is likely to be delivered successfully or not. 

There is no point in publishing the findings from Gateway reviews years after the reports have been completed. Which, perhaps, is why this happens.  

Downing Street cannot credibly claim to be running the most open and transparent government in the world while it is pandering to senior officials who don't want anyone to know when their IT projects are going wrong.


GP Systems of Choice Gateway Review - NHS Connecting for Health website 

NHS data spine Gateway Review - NHS CfH website 


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