24 November 2006 | Antony Barton
NHS trusts could be able to choose their own IT services when the NHS IT programme is decentralised.
The Department of Health has confirmed that its "local ownership programme", commissioned by NHS chief executive David Nicholson last week, is aimed at achieving "a shift in ownership to the local NHS to ensure it is an essential part of normal NHS business in supporting the delivery of better quality and safer care". Currently there is no timetable for the devolution.
The Department of Health wouldn't detail the changes but it is likely to mean trusts will be allowed to choose their own software and service providers.
While decentralisation would reduce trusts' buying power, it would increase competition among suppliers.
Clive Longbottom, service director at business and IT analyst Quocirca, said: "Essentially, the biggest problem with decentralising could be the need to replicate purchasing skills across each trust but I don't really see this as too much of an issue, as many of the existing trusts have to have purchaser equivalents to order things from the NHS central depots anyway."
He added: "It seems that finally the NHS has put pressure on government and government realises it is not getting the best deals through the supply chain. By making these changes it could get better value and may have the capability to actually save the NHS some cash."
Many doctors have criticised the existing National Programme for IT, established in 2002, for being behind on delivery. It aims to link together the various IT systems in the NHS to provide electronic appointment booking, an electronic care records service, electronic transmission of prescriptions and reliable IT infrastructure.