A prime mover in the much maligned National Programme for IT has been suspended from his job at its lead supplier after speaking openly about its problems.
Andrew Rollerson, healthcare head for Fujitsu, which has the lion's share of contracts to supply the £12.4bn NPfIT, was suspended on 13 February after Computer Weekly reported a speech he gave before a conference of industry peers in which he detailed his concerns for the programme.
He was subsequently called to appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) - an unusual step because the PAC had long since concluded its NPfIT hearings and was in the middle of writing the report of its findings.
Rollerson told the PAC yesterday that he had been suspended "since the day the Computer Weekly article appeared."
"There is an internal enquiry underway that may lead to disciplinary proceedings," he added.
Fujitsu confirmed he had been suspended "pending an internal investigation" the day his comments were reported, but refused to elaborate because it was a "personal matter".
Rollerson told the committee yesterday, "I believe in the programme philosophically and intellectually."
He went so far as to liken it to the US' post-war space programme.
"President Kennedy, in 1963, succeeded in aligning an entire nation behind it and its aims - the academics, the scientists, the politicians, and the commercial sector," he told the PAC.
"The nation accepted increased taxes when they had to pay for it and was euphoric when it succeeded. I believe that this programme is on a similar scale in terms of its ambition and its vision."
Rollerson also likened the NPfIT to Boeing's design of the 747 Jumbo Jet in the 50s, which he said was so big and so radical that that the manufacturer was obliged to go back to ask basic questions like, how do you make an aeroplane fly. NPfIT faced so many problems because that careful planning hadn't been done.
Back in February, according to Computer Weekly, he told an audience of other believers at a conference called "Successful implementation of NPfIT 2007" about his doubts.
He said there had been a "gradual coming apart of what we are doing on the ground because we are desperate to get something in and make it work, versus what the programme really ought to be trying to achieve".
"The more pressure we come under, both as suppliers and on the NHS side, the more we are reverting to a sort of narrowly focused IT-oriented behaviour. This is not a good sign for the programme."
Richard Bacon, MP for South Norfolk and PAC committee member, said Rollerson received a chorus of approval from the specialist health IT press for speaking his mind about the programme.
Bacon noted how Rollerson looked an "unlikely folk hero".
"It is as if somehow you were the one that let the finger out of the dam and then a whole collective sigh of relief went round the health IT sector," said Bacon.
Rollerson said Bacon was "absolutely spot on".®