Health service to buy IT at local level

13 September 2010

13 September 2010 | Helen Gilbert

Health IT purchasing on a centralised, national basis is to be ended, the Department of Health (DH) has confirmed.

The statment follows an internal DH review of the National Programme for IT (NPfIT), which concluded that a locally led system of procurement would help NHS organisations to introduce smaller, more manageable change in line with their business requirements and capacity.

National applications such as online appointments system Choose and Book, the Electronic Prescription Service and Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS) will remain – but the government claims their maturity means they no longer need to be managed as projects but instead as IT services under the control of the NHS.

The NPfIT was a New Labour scheme that began contracting in 2003. It was expected to involve around £12 billion expenditure on nationally managed projects, including one to build electronic health records for 50 million people in England.

Simon Burns, the health minister, described the improvement of IT as essential to delivering a patient-centred NHS, but said the nationally imposed system was neither necessary nor appropriate to deliver it.

He added: “We will allow hospitals to use and develop the IT they already have, and add to their environment either by integrating systems purchased through the existing national contracts or elsewhere.

“This makes practical sense. It also makes financial sense. Moving IT systems closer to the frontline will release £700 million extra in savings. Every penny saved through productivity gains will be reinvested to improve patient care.”

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, of the British Medical Association's GPs committee, warned that problems that could arise from a more localised approach.

He said: “The provision and experience of IT for clinicians on the ground is likely to vary according to the level of support and resources available locally. It is important that successful national IT initiatives are not lost, and that innovation is not stifled.

“There still needs to be some central accountability to ensure consistent and equitable delivery, manage local implementation, avoid wasteful duplication of effort and support local decision-making. For example, a nationally accredited list of systems would be helpful.”

The move comes at a time when elsewhere the government is moving towards a more centralised procurement approach.

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