Exercising the suppliers’ view

Last week the NHS listening exercise drew to a close after almost two months of attempting to engage with healthcare professionals and patient groups over the latest round of NHS reforms.

With more than 15,000 website responses and 720 letters received, the exercise has attracted a significant amount of interest to say the least.

But with such a significant response, it is unlikely that the report will be published by the middle of June as originally promised and for the government to respond quickly. This in turn makes it near impossible for it to become law by autumn, with many believing that it could take until next spring to see it through.

But while everyone waits with bated breath to hear news of the issues around the National Programme for IT, the delays to the health bill also have a knock on effect to the healthcare IT companies waiting in limbo to see the outcome of both the health bill and the associated information strategy and technology strategy.

While most suppliers appear to be aware of the implications and the opportunities that the reforms may bring, many have become part of the waiting game to see exactly how they should best position themselves to take advantage of them.

If changes go ahead to the bill, we could see the abolition of SHAs stretched out an additional year to spring 2013, and one of the most radical shake-ups of scrapping PCTs or the new clusters of them, could be abolished altogether, at least while they support and oversee the performance of new commissioning bodies. One should also be mindful of the fact that how many GP practices will be up for forming the GP consortia? What would happen to them if they don’t want to be part of the consortia and want to operate as they are, as they believe they are providing the best care possible through the way they are operating today? One should also keep in mind of the experience of Fundholding!

So what can the supplier do in all of this, sit back and wait or attempt to be heard among one of the biggest workforces in the world?

After speaking to several large groups of multi-national corporations who contributed their views during the information revolution consultation, they say that there is virtually no sign that they have been listened to so far. They are eagerly waiting for the report to see whether this has changed in the listening exercise!

With the information strategy and technology strategy being just a small fragment of the wider health bill, are the voices of the health IT industry important in this area?

The truth is that although they are most definitely there, suppliers are not at the top of the priority list. Suppliers’ perspectives are secondary but that shouldn’t stop them expressing their views. What suppliers should be doing is considering the best way to get their views heard, and that is likely to be as part of a collective group.

Intellect, one such collective group that represents the technology industry, has used the ‘listening exercise’ as a positive step to call for a national debate on how ICT can support a modern health service. It says that suppliers have “a responsibility to show the art of the possible.”

The organisation has set some core principles, including the need for the centre to “set an operational and technical framework of standards” while leaving local managers and clinicians to use ICT to “improve health at lower cost.”

Although these types of organisation are few and far between, they are out there and are giving those whose voice may previously have been too quiet the chance to be heard, so don’t be afraid to take advantage of the opportunity and get involved. The chance might not come around again for some time.

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