WA Health ordered to hire CIO "as soon as possible"

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WA Health ordered to hire CIO "as soon as possible"
Work on the Fiona Stanley Hospital.

Parliamentary committee decries IT governance.

The WA Parliament’s education and health committee has formally called on the state’s Health department to appoint a permanent chief information officer with haste, as four years of acting executives has undermined its IT capabilities.

Late last week the committee handed down the findings of its inquiry in the Fiona Stanley Hospital build, which concluded that weak and nebulous leadership of the project allowed serious IT concerns to simmer away unnoticed until they resulted in a six month delay to the facility opening its doors, costing the state nearly $120 million.

The department’s IT branch, the Health Information Network, was always underequipped to meet the ambitious technology vision set out for the hospital, the committee found – and the fact that it hasn’t had a permanent CIO for nearly four years hasn’t helped.

“The lack of permanent leadership at the [HIN] when it was undertaking the ambitious program of work intended for FSH could only have contributed to the significant difficulties that arose in the ICT work stream of the commissioning project.”

“In our view, such a sustained string of acting appointments is undesireable, particularly when HIN was supposed to be leading its most ambitious and challenging program of work undertaken to date.”

“Dedicated leadership was needed in this period more than ever, yet this was compromised by the failure to appoint a permanent head for HIN.”

- WA Parliament Education and Health Committee report

From 2010 to 2012, Alan Piper filled the acting CIO role, overseeing much of the early stages of the ICT planning of the hospital’s digital infrastructure.

The committee also raised concerns about Piper’s workload during this period, where he filled what the committee described as arguably “three separate full time positions” – simultaneously serving as executive director of the hospital’s procurement functions and chief state negotiator in discussions with hospital builder Serco on top of the CIO remit.

It concluded that the overlap “removed an important layer of check and balance...and compromised the independence of advice being provided by a critical dependency”.

Piper’s successor (also acting) Dr Andy Robertson lasted just over a year, and transferred to another Health role in January. Bill Leonard is currently holding the fort.

Back in January a spokesperson for the department refused to comment on a recruitment process. It continues to withhold comment on the matter.

A major symptom of the governance deficiencies the committee identified was that the scope of ICT works eventually put to market for the Fiona Stanley Hospital was never even signed off by the then CIO, Alan Piper.

In total, the Fiona Stanley Hospital build has breached its budget by $330 million.

Much of the blame has been laid at the feet of then Director General Kim Snowball, who didn’t pass on several warnings that IT operations were unlikely to meet deadlines and that progress would be delayed as a result.

The committee said if delays had been highlighted earlier, the cost to the state would have been less.

The report does not let Health Ministers Kim Hames off the hook either, saying it was his responsibility to seek out more information about the hospital’s progress.

“We would have expected the Minister to seek significantly more information about the commissioning project, especially given that the December 2012 briefing note raised the possibility of delay on account of ‘significant ICT readiness issues.’” 

- WA Parliament Education and Health Committee

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