By Jo Revill
November 12, 2006
The expert in charge of the government's ailing 12bn computer
modernisation programme for the NHS might expect to face criticism from
IT experts, disgruntled doctors and even political opponents. But this
weekend, it was his own mother who revealed he failed his university
computer studies course.
Richard Granger, the tough 42-year-old management consultant who runs
the government's Connecting for Health project, initially failed his
computer studies course at Bristol University - and took a year off as a
result. He was only allowed to resit the exam after she appealed on his
behalf, and he went on to gain a 2:2 in geology.
His mother, Mary Granger, spoke to The Observer about her surprise at
her son's role in the ambitious initiative that was supposed to
transform the NHS's computers and allow patient records to be kept
electronically. She hasn't spoken to her son for 10 years after a family
row, but she is now campaigning to save the local hospital in
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, which is losing some services to another
local trust, and believes the computer modernisation plans are a gross
waste of money.
'I can't believe that my son is running the IT modernisation programme
for the whole of the NHS,' she said.
Mrs Granger, a former teacher and local councillor said: 'He was
disappointed when he failed his computer studies course at Bristol. It
was pretty serious, so I had to write to Princess Anne, who at that time
was "university visitor" there to appeal for him to be allowed to resit
the exam, as initially he was refused permission. He did resit it and he
Mrs Granger said she and her son had had no contact after rows 10 years
ago, with her husband Les - Richard Granger's stepfather - and their
other two children. 'After university he became a management consultant
with Arthur Andersen [now Andersen Consulting].'
Friends of Granger leapt to his defence, however. One said: 'Richard
Granger is doing a very difficult job in difficult circumstances and
he's doing it very well. He does have a tough reputation but he needs to
be tough to deliver on this complex project.
'He's one of the most well motivated people I've met, and he's certainly
not doing the job just for the money He feels it's really worthwhile.'
He is the government's highest paid civil servant, earning more than
285,000 a year. Before going to the NHS, Granger oversaw the computer
program which introduced congestion charging to London, but he is now
under growing pressure as some of the biggest IT companies have pulled
out of the NHS scheme.
A National Audit Office report earlier this year criticised the
government for failing to win the 'hearts and minds' of the medical
profession, but broadly supported the project's claim to be running on
time and budget. The challenges noted by the NAO include ensuring that
IT suppliers 'continue to deliver systems that meet the needs of the NHS
and to agreed time limits without further slippage'. This point is
important because Richard Granger has pinned down suppliers to tough
contracts on which many are making a loss.
He said yesterday that he could penalise them for late delivery but was
not doing so in the interest of keeping 'a balance between penalising
suppliers and letting them cope with work in progress, which they
haven't been paid for'.
Granger has attracted widespread plaudits in the industry for tight
management. But at the end of last year he upset some critics in the
Department of Health, who accused him of running the project as though
it were a separate barony outside Whitehall control. There were frequent
changes in the senior officials who were supposed to be managing him,
exposing the department to potential criticism from parliamentary
watchdogs for failing make anyone personally accountable.
Mrs Granger, 62, is campaigning against a plan to reconfigure health
services across West Yorkshire. The Huddersfield Royal Infirmary will
lose its main maternity unit, and be left instead with a midwife led
unit which other staff believe will not be safe enough for most of the
2,700 deliveries that take place there each year.
Other services, including mental health, care for the elderly and most
routine, elective, surgery are moving to the Calderdale Royal Hospital
'I feel dismayed that I'm watching the hospital where I gave birth to my
children, where Harold Wilson was born, being dismantled. Some of the
money which goes into Connecting for Health could be saving my local
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