Way forward mapped for UK's National Programme for IT
A comprehensive strategy for accelerating the pace of delivery for the UK's National Programme for IT (NPfIT) and introducing additional supplier capacity has been outlined by Christine Connelly, the Department of Health's director general for informatics.
Connelly set out a number of key proposals, including opening up the IT market with a procurement process for hospital trusts in the South of England which were not managed by BT.
This would use the Additional Supply Capability and Capacity framework which confirmed a number of suppliers in 2007 as able to deliver extra resources for the Programme.
The computing marketplace will also be boosted by the provision of a Department of Health toolkit which will allow new products to be developed locally, accredited centrally and linked to existing deployments of information systems such as Cerner and Lorenzo.
It is envisaged that work on this toolkit - a pioneering initiative to take advantage of the latest technological developments - will be complete by March 2010.
Having reviewed the progress and strategy for the NPfIT, the CIO is clear that all the core aims of the NPfIT around providing accessible and timely information to support patient care should be retained.
This also applies to the procurement model which has ensured protection for the UK taxpayer by only paying suppliers on successful delivery of working systems.
Good progress has been made in many areas including digitised imaging replacing X-rays, online patient referrals, electronic transfers of records when patients change GPs and a broadband network linking acute hospitals, GP surgeries and community services.
Through the implementation of picture archiving and communication systems across all NHS hospital trusts in England, patients are experiencing faster and safer diagnoses and treatment while freeing up vital resources to invest in even better patient care.
The new systems and services introduced as part of the Programme also support choice and convenience for patients in booking outpatient appointments and obtaining repeat prescriptions. Some 54 percent of all new outpatient appointments are being now booked through Choose and Book and recent evidence suggests that using Choose and Book is reducing referral response times from 25 to five days, making a key contribution to achieving 18 weeks targets for treatment.
However, as was recently pointed out by the UK's Public Accounts Committee, progress in implementing electronic information systems in the acute sector has proved more challenging. Greater pace needs to be injected into these implementations. If significant progress is not achieved by the end of November 2009, a new plan for delivering informatics to healthcare will be adopted.
"This review has shown me just how committed NHS Trusts are to achieving the aims of the National Programme for Information Technology (NPfIT)," Connelly said. "By improving information sharing, we can make a real difference to the quality and safety of services for patients and support more flexible and personalised care, which is what patients have told us they want."
Connelly said the department now wants to open up the healthcare IT market to new suppliers and new technological developments, to inject more pace into the programme. "Working together we can help Trusts configure systems to best meet their local needs as well as take advantage of market developments to make more use of the information held in the core systems," she said.
The department will be working closely with the NHS and its current suppliers to improve the pace of delivery, she noted. "If we don't see significant progress by the end of November 2009, then we will move to a new plan for delivering informatics to healthcare. The potential for informatics to improve the quality of services for patients is enormous, and I want to ensure that what we are doing is in the best interests of patients, as well as the system."