Health withholds Telstra payments for $220m cancer register

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Health withholds Telstra payments for $220m cancer register

As go-live milestones missed.

The Department of Health is withholding payment from Telstra for the development of Australia’s national cancer register due to ongoing project delays.

Telstra won the $220 million contract to build and maintain the single national record for the screening of cervical and bowel cancers in May 2016.

The register was meant to replace eight separate cervical cancer screening registers operated by the states and territories and the paper-based national bowel screening register by March 2017.

The intention was that it would be ready in time for the bowel and cervical cancer screening programs in March and May last year.

But a complex data migration pushed back the go-live, stalling both national screening programs and resulting in extra costs for the Health department.

The register finally went live - nine month later than originally planned - in December last year, though it remains only partially operational.

However the delays appear to have had flow on effects for Telstra, which has been paid less than five percent of the $220 million, two years into the contract.

“So far, Telstra have been paid less than $11 million under the contract,” first assistant secretary of the national cancer screening taskforce Bettina Konti told senate estimates last week.

She said the department is managing the contract in a way that Telstra is only paid once the work is complete, with pay for full operations to commence once the cervical screening register is delivered.

Acting deputy secretary of the aged care and population health group Lisa Studdert said there had “been delays in payments to Telstra”, agreeing with an assertion by Labor Senator Murray Watt that this had been down to the telco missing milestones and requirements.

The department has decided not to impose penalties on Telstra as yet, but secretary Glenys Beauchamp said this remained “an option in the future”.

The register is currently capable of receiving “new pathology test results” from the human papillomavirus (HPV) test for cervical cancer.

The department is still in the process of transferring historical information from the state and territory registers, and will now only have the cervical cancer register fully operational at the end of June this year.

“So far, we have five of the eight states and territories successfully having migrated into that register,” said Konti, who left the Department of Health at the end of last week to become the ACT government’s new chief digital officer.

“One of the states or territories is verifying and reconciling the results of their migration, which is complete, which makes the sixth one.

“The seventh one is underway, and Victoria is yet to come. That is expected to be finished by 8 June.”

The second major component of the register, which will replace the existing bowel cancer register, remains without a firm go-live date.

The department will look to apply learnings from the national cancer screening register to the transfer of the national bowel cancer register.

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