NHS shakes up GP IT procurement to boost innovation

The UK government has overhauled the procurement behind GP IT systems in a bid to promote innovation.

The creation of the GP IT Futures framework aims to procure the best healthtech and to obtain services providing patient record systems, advanced document managment, digital clinical support services, patient-facing services and e-consultations.

NHS Digital is procuring and managing the new framework, which replaces the GP Systems of Choice (GPoSC) framework under which practices procured IT services from four principal system suppliers: TPP SystmOne, EMIS Web, InPS Vision and Microtest Evolution.

A Public Information Notice in August 2018 said the procurement strategy is moving away from principal and subsidiary systems to a modular set-up which encourages more suppliers (including new entrants) to provide services. 

Martin Warden, director of the digital transformation in general practice programme at NHS Digital, said: "The new framework will make it simpler to bring new capabilities and suppliers to market; and provide local organisations and other buyers with more choice through an online catalogue service.”

The NHS is working to enhance the IT systems to keep up with the digital age, and aims for all patients in England to have digital access to GP services by 2023-24, including online/mobile or video consultations, said the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). 

Patient data will be moved to cloud services and systems will be intergrated in order to provide secure access to life-saving information for health professionals and patients across all GP practices, hospitals and social care settings.

New standards and technical requirements have been introduced by NHS Digital, ensuring systems can communicate securely and are continuously upgradable. Any contractors that do not understand and abide by the new IT system quality criteria are expected to be terminated.

Sarah Wilkinson, chief executive at NHS Digital, said: “We are committed to working with existing and new suppliers to deliver these extended capabilities for the benefit of GPs and patients. We’re very excited about the huge opportunities that will arise from improving the sophistication and quality of these services.”

The DHSC said two main providers dominated the current market and this restricted structure had caused lack of innovation, problems with access to data, and long-term contracts that meant outdated IT systems remained a barrier to innovation. The changes are expected to “free up staff time and reduce delays by allowing seamless, digitised flows of information” across the healthcare network, said DHSC.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: “Too often the IT used by GPs in the NHS – like other NHS technology – is out of date. It frustrates staff and patients alike, and doesn’t work well with other NHS systems.”

The GP IT overhaul is in accordance with the government’s 2018 annual report to use advanced technology to improve the NHS by 2040, and builds on Hancock’s vision for healthtech. He said: “We have to develop a culture of enterprise in the health service to allow the best technology to flourish.”

The Chief Medical Officer Annual Report 2018, Health 2040, Better Health Within Reach,  outlines the future of the UK's public healthcare as a primary asset that needs to harness emerging technology, including machine learning.

The report said: “We believe that the NHS provides a particularly fertile environment for the development and integration of machine learning into healthcare because it is a single party provider with a unified healthcare network that can promote rapid dissemination of innovations to an entire population.

“Close working relationships among NHS trusts and allied academic institutions, provides the United Kingdom with the opportunity to lead the world in the transformation of healthcare through machine learning.”

Other developments in NHS procurement include the Unipart £730m logistics contract to deliver medical devices and hospital consumables, which will start at the end of February 2019.

The chief executive of NHS Supply Chain, Jin Sahota, told SM how contracts are being transferred to a new centralised operating model which is expected to save £2.4bn over five years.

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