Time standing still: NHS procurements

There appears to be a great deal of IT procurements being advertised BUT do they actually reflect the recently announced Information Strategy: ‘The power of information’: putting all of us in control of the health and care information we need?

Sadly, the contents of many tenders that I have seen so far show very little that demonstrates that there has been a real step change in the NHS in realising the importance of the patient’s involvement in their own care.

Skimming through some of the acute OJEUs (The Official Journal of the European Union) there are requests for patient administration systems, clinic management, admission, transfer and discharge. They show that nothing has really changed, there are very few trust’s making demands from suppliers, putting them to the test and asking for something innovative or cutting edge. It is as if time stood still, and maybe it did for many NHS trusts while they waited for one of the National Programme system’s to be foisted upon them and now has resulted in trusts feeling pressure to get on and replace its out-dated legacy systems.

Just a few of the key ambitions that can have enormous potential benefits of information to improve our care and health outcomes, were set out in the ‘The power of information’:

  •  An information-led culture where all health and care professionals – and local bodies whose policies influence our health, such as local councils – take responsibility for recording, sharing and using information to improve our care.
  • The widespread use of modern technology to make health and care services more convenient, accessible and efficient.
  • An information system built on innovative and integrated solutions and local decision-making, within a framework of national standards that ensure information can move freely, safely, and securely around the system.

Yet, how many procurements are we seeing that recognise these key objectives in transforming our healthcare service? Very, very few! And would it hurt these trusts really, just to put the brakes on and reconsider their requirements in light of these objectives?

Not only do many of the tender documents fail to mention the key ambitions listed above but many also fail to detail the importance of standards.

I heard only this week that there are likely to be 6 to 8 organisations all involved in standard setting within the NHS. An example of the issues that the lack of standards can bring, was made clear at a recent event I attended, where one doctor from East Kent, who was carrying out a big randomised trial, found that all the data from GPs came in electronic form, whereas the data from hospital in-patients arrived on paper. This is a pretty basic failure of “data standards” which incidentally demonstrates how far ahead in IT primary care is, when compared to their hospital secondary care colleagues. Standards can no longer be an after thought; they need to be high on the agenda for every single procurement across every care setting.

On a more positive note, on reading the Community OJEUs, it feels like the early days of spring! There is an excitement and purpose and dare I say a vision to connect and share information whilst acknowledging that standards are important. Fantastic! Let’s forge ahead and take advantage of what may be the only real ‘revolution’ in clinical information technology.

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