04 January 2007 | Helen Gilbert
Hospitals and trusts should consider widening their IT sources according to a new report.
The recommendation was one of a number made in a British Computer Society Health Informatics Forum report, which suggests that smaller, locally procured IT systems could produce quicker results than systems purchased centrally.
Under the current National Programme for IT, hospitals and GP surgeries can receive free software. But some argue the programme is taking too long, has not engaged users such as doctors and nurses and the software is either out of date or inflexible for local needs.
Currently, National Application Service Providers are responsible for purchasing and integrating IT systems nationally. BT, Atos Origin and Cable and Wireless are the main providers. Local Service Providers (LSP), meanwhile, are delivering systems and services for five regional clusters of strategic health authorities.
Ian Herbert, vice-chairman of the British Computer Society's Health Informatics Forum, said a mix of both local and national procurement would be desirable. While government agency Connecting for Health (CFH) does the "lion's share" of procurement, he said hospitals and trusts should not dismiss procuring IT systems themselves.
The author of The Way Forward for NHS Health Informatics: Where should NHS Connecting for Health go from here?
added that nationally procured programmes could do many "things", but might do them in a way hospitals do not like.
"Hospitals may find smaller systems easier to implement and produce benefits more quickly than big systems," he said.
The report called for a "major emphasis" on national standards to enable all systems to interact effectively, rather than focusing on a few "monolithic systems".
In the same week, CFH announced that Strategic Health Authorities would be made more accountable for delivery of IT under its new Local Ownership Programme. A CFH spokeswoman could not say if this would affect LSP contracts: "NHS CFH will continue to have the responsibilities for which it was originally set up, such as the national programmes, the commercial strategy of the programmes and contractual negotiations with suppliers."
* Plans to create a single database to hold records for the national identity card have been scrapped by the Home Office. The National Identity register was originally proposed as a single computer system to avoid mistakes and duplications. Information will now be spread across three existing systems in a bid to keep costs down.