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What will happen to NHS supplier contracts if power is devolved? August 30, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government, IT Services, Outsourcing.
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The NHS is under fire once again. This time it’s a familiar story, the need to eliminate the swathes of red tape and middle management that prevent nurses and doctors doing their jobs.

This is a familiar refrain. If may be more shrill now the government is led by the Conservative party, but even the previous administration used to talk of devolving power to the frontline care-givers. Yet, how will that latest proposals affect the NHS and particularly the huge array of technology contracts that had been agreed over the past couple of years?

First, it’s never as easy as just wiping out red tape. Devolving budgets to each individual GP or hospital sounds great in practice, but if a doctor is to spend most of his or her time on the frontline with patients then they actually need some of those administrators – without the admin team, the doctor is going to be poring over spreadsheets all day.

It’s important to identify waste and red tape – nobody can dispute that – but the elimination of administrators can go too far. And the devolvement of budget responsibility could have further implications for centrally controlled programmes.

Connecting for Health may be maligned, but it’s supporters would argue that this is because it is an immense programme of work, creating a communications network between GPs, hospitals, and pharmacies, allowing a truly joined-up health service to operate. That level of complexity does take time to get right, but in a devolved world it would be impossible to plan for such a grand vision of how the NHS could operate.

The NHS currently works with a joint venture firm, NHS Shared Business Services, to offer finance and accounting services back into the primary care trusts. What will happen to ventures like this if the PCTs are abolished?

There is much to applaud in the new government plans to rid the NHS of waste, but there are many areas that could change in a negative way if these plans are not thought through in detail.

Can a supplier contract exist without putting it in writing? August 23, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in IT Services, Outsourcing.
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Let’s shake on it. It’s a common enough agreement and it seems offensive to shake a on deal and then to refuse to take any further role in the business agreement until a contract is in place, but is the contract essential? Does the handshake really mean anything in law?

I have found myself in a situation several times where a company suggests that I work on a project, I do some work immediately because there is a sense of urgency or a deadline, and when we start talking commercials the agreement falls down. That can be annoying for me, as well as disappointing for the company I am working for, but does it always need to be like this?

It’s also common in outsourcing to find that these agreements are put in place and never documented. Either it’s because the supplier begins work urgently, before the formal agreement is signed, or there is some informal service agreement that is not in the contract. It can also be that two firms with an agreement carry on working after their official contract expires.
So if the contract doesn’t contain a specification of what is required or the contract has expired then is there really any contract at all?

Implied contracts do exist when parties have agreed orally or carried on working past the life of a contract, but it’s important to remember, the same terms don’t apply. Just because a condition was in the original contract, does not mean it can be applied when there is a dispute over the ongoing service.

So the handshake does have some value, even in law, but cannot replace a formal service contract.

Why can’t phone users cancel a contract if they find they have no coverage at home? August 17, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in IT Services, Outsourcing.
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Telecoms watchdog Ofcom recently published maps showing the expected 3G phone coverage across the UK for all the major service providers.  What’s scary for most consumers is the large amounts of dead space – usually in rural areas.
I know how difficult it can be to sometimes get a phone signal in the UK as I recently cycled from London to Lands End in Cornwall and I was often searching for a particular road, hoping to use the GPS function on my phone, only to find there was no signal.

But what happens if you buy a brand new phone and take it home, only to find that you can’t even get a reliable signal at home. Surely it means the product is not fit for purpose – just like buying a product that does not work, you should be able to return it to the shop? It seems that is very difficult. Most retailers don’t like to see you cancelling a juicy 18-month contract because of perceived poor signals at home.

There are now examples of consumers taking complaints to the courts, but this is not common. Most consumers just hope things will be improve, but there are even some phone operator adverts now featuring people hanging from the window trying to get a signal, implying that this is usual on other networks.

It should be simple to offer a cooling-off period after getting a phone, where you can test the signal, or even offering to allow potential customers to try the service using a temporary SIM. But the status quo is surely not acceptable. Why would anyone pay for a service that doesn’t work?

Wikileaks – the legality of a website for leaks August 11, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government.
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The Wikileaks website is back in the news again, this time because it is alleged that a US serviceman has leaked thousands of confidential diplomatic messages to the services. The US military is angry, claiming that troop lives can be endangered by leaks of this nature. Many in the media argue that the freedom to criticize government should be a right for all citizens to enjoy.

Wikileaks describes itself as “WikiLeaks is a multi-jurisdictional public service designed to protect whistleblowers, journalists and activists who have sensitive materials to communicate to the public.” The site distributes data across several servers located in several countries, therefore not subjecting itself to any one jurisdiction. There are also hundreds of web addresses that will take a reader to the Wikileaks site too, just in case your current jurisdiction bans it.

But consider for a moment how free comment could be abused using such a system.

If it is possible to make any comment about anyone or any organisation using a service such as this then the national protection of libel surely no longer exists?

Wikileaks is proving to be a vital tool in giving whistleblowers a safe mechanism for reporting corporate or government fraud and wrongdoing, but once a reporting mechanism answers to nobody, how can the claims be verified and reputations protected?