UK's health service plans close to death‾

The £12.7bn plan by the National Health Service (NHS) to computerise every English patient's record on a centrally held database has run into even more trouble. It is already four years behind schedule and only roughly still on budget because of the penalty clauses placed on vendors for failure to deliver on time.

Now, after ten months of wrangling between the government and Fujitsu, talks have broken down. Fujitsu had been awarded a £896 million (€1.133 billion) contract over ten years to install the records across the south and west of England.

The NHS was insisting on greater flexibility, Fujitsu said it couldn't be done without the price going up. The authorities wouldn't sanction this, Fujitsu said it was sticking to the original, agreed spec. Now Connecting for Health which is supposed to be in charge of the ambitious IT programme says it will issue a termination notice to Fujitsu. It could cost the Japanese services company up to £300 million (€379 million).

It is the second time primary supplier to pull out after Accenture withdrew in 2006, also incurring substantial costs.

BT, which runs the programme in London, look favourite to pick up Fujitsu's role as it opted to use the same Cerner software. However, the Japanese corporation is thought to have 20 days to register a counter claim. If the two cannot agree terms, a legal battle could ensue.