IT supplier challenges objectors to innovate in wake of IT Strategy criticism

Dell boss welcomes Government's direction as market opens for healthcare IT providers

Healthcare IT suppliers in the UK now have an ‘opportunity to innovate’ due to the ‘leadership and direction’ provided by the Department of Health’s much-criticised Information Strategy , according to a leading industry spokesman.

Tim Sheppard, director of the UK public sector at IT supplier, Dell, spoke out following the publication, earlier this month, of the long-awaited guidance document, The Power of Information .

The strategy ought to have been received with more positivity. In a few years’ time I think we will look back and say it was transformative and gave power to patients, and that it a very important step

And he hit out at critics who claim the 100-page document does nothing to ensure the uptake of innovative technology following the death of the NHS National Programme for IT.

In an interview with BBH this week, he said: “The strategy ought to have been received with more positivity. In a few years’ time I think we will look back and say it was transformative and gave power to patients, and that it a very important step.

“The criticism is that the Government is not telling us how this rollout of technology should be done, but the national programme showed that being prescriptive was not a recipe for success.

“This is about empowering patients and giving them control. Someone recently likened it to the publication of the King James Bible. This was the first time the Bible had been translated into English. Before its publication priests had the power as they were the ones who translated it. Suddenly they lost some of that power as individuals could read it themselves. This is what is going to happen with healthcare information; we are taking the power away from the Government and clinicians and giving it to the patients.”

Unlike the national programme, which contracted just a handful of large companies to carry out work nationally, the new approach by the Government will open up the marketplace and allow individual trusts to procure their own solutions. This, says Sheppard, will challenge suppliers to be more innovative.

The criticism is that the Government is not telling us how this rollout of technology should be done, but the national programme showed that being prescriptive was not a recipe for success

He said: “Moving forward there will be a big role for the provider sector to play. Having been so restricted by the national programme, they now have an opportunity to innovate.”

This will include coming up with new funding mechanisms to enable healthcare trusts to spread the cost of investment in the latest technologies.

Sheppard said: “IT makes up only around 1.5-3% of total budget spend so many trusts do not have the finances to carry out major capital schemes. They will be relying on providers to implement these within their day-to-day expenditure; looking more at revenue spend, rather than capital outlay. They will be looking for cheaper technology and quicker and cheaper deployment.

“In addition, current NHS contracts do not allow smaller players to compete as the liabilities and risks are too high. We really do need to use this new operating landscape to take a fresh look at the mechanisms by which we do business in the healthcare marketplace.”

This approach will see more interest in managed equipment service (MES) contracts and fixed-price procurement systems.

Trusts will also need help to lead the cultural change needed to get buy-in from healthcare staff.

We really do need to use this new operating landscape to take a fresh look at the mechanisms by which we do business in the healthcare marketplace

Sheppard said: “The IT Strategy is much more about a cultural change than it is about technology. Research by The Royal College of GPs shows more than half of all GPs already have the functionality to share patient records, but only 1% do so. Moving forward, we will need to help with that culture change as much as we help to deliver the IT solutions.”

And those IT solutions will need to do more than just allow patients to access their own records.

Sheppard said: “When a person goes onto an internet banking site, they don’t just want to check their balance. In healthcare, too, we will need to enable more transactions to take place. People will want to book appointments, check results and speak to their doctor.

This is an exciting time for healthcare IT and, while I’m sure there will be some bumps in the road to start with, the first few successful projects will be held up as the way forward for the healthcare system across the UK

“This is an exciting time for healthcare IT and, while I’m sure there will be some bumps in the road to start with, the first few successful projects will be held up as the way forward for the healthcare system across the UK.

“I would like to see less criticism and more positivity as we move into this new era.”

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