IT news: Minister defends NHS IT deployments as industry leaders call for new information strategy

HEALTH Minister, Simon Burns, this week defended the much-maligned NHS National Programme for IT, claiming it had provided trusts with the systems they need to improve services and make efficiencies in line with the health service reforms.

Addressing ministers in the House of Commons, Burns claimed that rather than being a waste of money, the now-defunct national programme had delivered key solutions that would be fundamental to the NHS once the Coalition's transformation plan goes ahead.

The systems implemented by the programme are making a difference to patients' experiences and to clinical efficiency, safety and effectiveness

He said: "The systems implemented by the programme are making a difference to patients' experiences and to clinical efficiency, safety and effectiveness".

As examples, he cited three organisations; University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust, Barts and the London NHS Trust, and the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust, which have all installed key Lorenzo and Cerner Millennium patient records software.

Burns said that at Morecambe Bay infection prevention is now 'fully electronic' and at St Barts Hospital in London clinicians are alerted to all patients carrying MRSA. The Royal Free Hospital has also used Millennium to create safety procedure information, including for endoscopy data and bleeding guidelines.

In total, supplier BT has delivered community and mental health systems to all trusts in London and the South which have requested them and the Cerner Millennium system to just over half of all London trusts, he added.

As the listening period is now coming to an end, we urge the Department of Health to publish the information strategy as soon as possible and, more importantly, move quickly towards opening up NHS information to patients and the public and reinvigorating the digitisation of healthcare by creating choice and competition within a robust framework of interoperability

The second supplier, CSC, has delivered Lorenzo to 83 acute trusts in the North, Midlands and East of England and to 137 prison health centres.

And all but 14 of the 8,000 GP practices in England have a systems supplied, either through the national programme or via private procurements.

Burns said: " We invest a great deal of money in ensuring that if systems go down, each and every component can be automatically recovered. Should a whole system fail, it can be recovered and made available for clinicians to use within two hours. Of course, such a level of disaster recovery does not come cheaply, which helps explain differences in price between some systems in the programme and similar systems procured by some trusts outside the programme."

But, following the comments, BSC Health, the Chartered Institute for IT, urged Burns and fellow ministers to make clear their intentions for investment after the controversial NHS reforms are agreed.

The NHS cannot deliver 20% productivity improvements while maintaining quality and access without the use of information technology

Chairman, Matthew Swindells, said he was concerned the planned information strategy had become caught up in the Government's 'listening exercise'. And he said better use of information and technology and greater accountability to the public and patients were a pre-requisite for improving the NHS, regardless of the final policies that emerge from the reforms process. "The NHS cannot deliver 20% productivity improvements while maintaining quality and access without the use of information technology. As the listening period is now coming to an end, we urge the Department of Health to publish the information strategy as soon as possible and, more importantly, move quickly towards opening up NHS information to patients and the public and reinvigorating the digitisation of healthcare by creating choice and competition within a robust framework of interoperability."

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