1. v. The act of writing a weblog or 2. n. Toby’s weblog.

NHS IT: A plan for the future

We all know what a mess the NHS IT project is in. Billions overspent; one of the major partners currently being investigated by the FSA for suspected “accounting irregularities”; another announcing a profit drop due to the project and then subsequently pulling out. Most recently the government has threatened to scrap the agency in charge of the project". So much, so known, and yet nothing seems to be being done publicly to fix the project. The press pundits complain about a waste of tax payers’ money and typical government IT project cock ups but I haven’t yet seen anyone put forward a plan to fix it.

In the past, back when the NHS IT project was but a glimmer in the eye of the various consultants that persuaded governments that monolithic IT solutions were The Way Forward I spent a time talking to doctors about their requirements. Here is what I learnt: before government woke up to the enabling aspects of technology the Doctors realised pretty quickly that they could make their surgeries far more efficient. They either looked at off the shelf packages or talked to developers for more bespoke solutions. The Doctors got systems that they and their staff liked with user interfaces that they then got used to over many years. Generally the systems worked the way that they wanted and had specified. Unfortunately the systems didn’t work well with each other and were not compatible with the systems that hospitals and other NHS resources had.

So, how to rectify this situation? I am a great believer in loosely coupled systems which offer many advantages. At this point in the NHS IT Project the large collection of different software platforms that existed should have been seen as building blocks, not a hindrance.

In 2000 Tony decided that the UK should become the best country in the world for e-commerce. This seeded some ideas in my head about how these sorts of large government projects should look. Rather than creating large, monolithic and effectively unmanageable projects, why not ask some technical experts (say, the W3C) about data transfer technologies and then set up a working committee to look at a resilient and extensible data standard for transferring data between medical systems?

Once this standard is produced all government needs to do is mandate its use across all NHS platforms. You keep a free market in software; doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, hospitals, you name it, all get to use the software that they want to use, rather than software that is forced upon them which requires vast swathes of tax payer’s cash as well as retraining. The more technical able would even be able to write their own applications. You also get the benefit of then having created a standard that medical systems can use across the world. Imagine how useful it would be, in the modern travel hungry world, if doctors in foreign countries being able to find out about your medical history if you are unable to communicate it to them for what ever reason.

There are obvious hurdles here but none of them are insurmountable, and a few of them are solved problems in other industries. Here are some of the challenges that this would face off the top of my head:

  • Data Security
  • Authentication and Access Rights
  • Data location
  • Data synchronisation
  • Data redundancy

IT these days should be about enabling people to improve how they and the processes that they interact with work. Lets work towards that in the most flexible way possible.

Published on 2006/11/08 at 15:30 by Toby, tags , , , ,

TCSOTD 2006-11-07

Japanese researchers build 512 core maths co-processor

comp.risks 24.46

Goldsmith agrees to stay out of cash-for-honours investigation
BBC’s take on it here

Clairvoyant lead Americans to Saddam claims Geller

Sun inspired ‘careless driving’ law will lead to injustice

How to steal an election by hacking the vote

Bullet-proof text books may help save lives in school shooting

Sam and Max: Culture Shock review

Australian Institute of Criminology calles piracy losses ‘self-serving hyperbole’

Winning hearts and minds

Published on 2006/11/07 at 08:48 by Toby, tags , , , , , ,

When service goes bad

On Friday night I was at a friend’s birthday party in the basement of a pub in Notting Hill. The pub itself was full but not packed: the bar queue was never more than one layer deep. The first couple of rounds gave me no indication of how awful things were to get; I always got served quickly. I should have realised that things were starting to go wrong when Alex came back from the bar with a bottle of wine having been away for twenty minutes.

Half an hour later I decide the time is right for another bottle. This turned out to be the incorrect decision. I stood at the bar for thirty minutes whilst the other, frankly rude, punters queue jumped. I watched some of the worst bar service I have ever seen, and yes, I have worked behind busy bars; I know how to do it properly. I watched the bar staff give incredible deals on drinks to many people who seemed to be their mates.

When I finally managed to get one of the three woefully slow and disorganized bar staff to serve me it turned out that all five of the wines that I had chosen as acceptable from the wine list were not in stock. Why not let the customer know in advance by, oh I don’t know, crossing them off on the chalk board? Wouldn’t that be useful? Apparently not. Why not have enough stock for Friday night? I have heard on the grape vine that it is quite common that people go out on Friday night, so why not make damn sure you have enough stock? It is just Not That Hard. Not only had I queued for thirty minutes, put up with obnoxious behaviour by certain other members of the public, but also I had put up with this for no gain. All of this marred a perfectly good evening.

There is no excuse for a popular pub in central London to have such atrocious service, I shall not be going back.

Published on 2006/11/06 at 15:43 by Toby, tags ,

TCSOTD 2006-11-06

Drivers cannot leave roundabout legally
… this sort of thing reminds me why I love the UK

Senior Labour MP calls for the abandonment of Guy Fawkes night
… and this reminds me why I don’t love the people who run the UK

Knowledge should be public good first, private right second
report here

ID Cards about ‘modernity’, not civil liberties
… great, so we are having this idiocy foisted on us because Blair wants us to look trendy.

Olympic games faces huge tax bill

Published on 2006/11/06 at 06:00 by Toby, tags , , , ,

Living with the Nüvi

The Garmin Nüvi 660

I’ve had the nüvi for a few weeks now and it has become an indispensable part of my driving. The voice synthesis is a lot better than I expected it to be – I’ve only heard it get one road name wrong – and very much a useful addition to city driving. The traffic broadcasting has turned out to be extremely useful with the joyous London traffic, although it does cause me to ask “If I’m not in traffic does it exist?”. Although this may sound like philosophical wank there is a serious point – short of driving into bad traffic areas I have no way of checking that the GPS isn’t just making up where the problems are for the sheer fun of it.

It has taken me on many interesting routes to different places that I would never have been to otherwise and the rapid recalculation speed is a real boon. Coming back from Woking recently it took me on a great route through the countryside before dumping me on the motorway for a short while. It was quicker that the route that I would have taken, more enjoyable and the views were a lot more picturesque than the view from the motorway.

The mp3 playback is good quality (although it does not play Ogg Vorbis which is a major downside for me as my entire music collection is encoded using that codec). The other slight downside is that I live in a fairly built up area with tunnels, high buildings and thin roads. This means that it sometimes has problems locking on to the satellite signal until I am out of the area; I just have to remember to stand around outside to let it get a strong enough signal before I get to the car.

In short, a great tool which appeals to the map geek in me and brings back some of the joy to driving which living in Central London has sucked away. Granted, a lot of that is due to the traffic avoidance: if you live in a big city don’t get a GPS without it!

Published on 2006/11/03 at 08:29 by Toby, tags , , ,

TCSOTD 2006-11-03

Head of US National Association of Evangelicals resigns in gay sex row

Henry Porter: Standing up to Scrutiny

British believe Kim Jong-il less dangerous than Bush

World fastest street legal car
… and it is too old for road tax too!

A great chairman’s statement
… the fun stuff starts at ’I’d like to express some personal views’

Trademark’s last gig with their current stage show

Curry keeps brain healthy

Published on 2006/11/03 at 06:13 by Toby, tags , , , , , ,

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