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FSFE welcomes paper calling for Free Software in the NHS


Research programme publishes damning report of public health ICT, and recommends Free Software and Open Standards.

Professor John Chelsom, founder of the Centre for Health Informatics at City University London (CUL), published a paper this week calling for the NHS to stop investing in proprietary software, and eliminate "once and for all, the product-centric culture" that has "held back" British healthcare. Arguing that the NHS is "just emerging from a decade of wasted opportunity", the paper states that the National programme for IT (NPfIT) is a failure.

"It's encouraging for the British public to see City University London calling for a new way of thinking in British healthcare which would provide better value and service for society" said Sam Tuke, British Coordinator of the Free Software Foundation Europe. "Britain's National Health Service has a long history of favouring proprietary software from companies who have drawn tens of billions of pounds in public health contracts" "Past NHS IT strategies have been widely criticised for failings, some of the worst of which are attributable to the use of proprietary protocols, formats, platforms and software. The NHS 'Spine', for example, exceeded its original budget many times over and suffered serious security vulnerabilities. .

CUL's paper arrives on the heels of complaints from December relating to the Department of Health's recent IT consultation paper 'An Information Revolution', which was published in October. Directors of two Free Software suppliers challenged the absence of Free Software in DfH's consultation paper, in a guardian publication entitled 'Avoiding another lost decade for open source'.

"While it has been reassuring to read about the positive stance of the Cabinet Office towards Free Software in recent months, this attitude has yet to have a significant impact on British healthcare. CUL's paper recognises the urgent need for the NHS to harness the benefits of Free Software, and rightly calls for open development processes, open interfaces, and a rejuvenation of the commercial supplier base, spurred by fair competition that only Free Software can provide" said Tuke.

The paper concludes "perhaps the time has come for a change in our perceptions, motivation and in the development of clinical information systems". FSFE President Karsten Gerloff added: "We hope that in future NHS ICT services will be more aware of the advantages of Free Software and Open Standards, and that decision makers will take notice of independent studies such as this one".