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Updated The government's vision of an integrated computer system for the NHS is coming apart at the seams as NHS trusts are to start looking for alternative IT suppliers, The Guardian reports.

iSoft is the main software partner in the not-so-much-loved National Programme for IT (NPfIT), but delays are now so long and managers under such pressure from hospital trusts that bosses at NPfIT are having to draw up a list of alternative suppliers.

This list first saw the light of day in October last year. Back then, and before he got his new boss, Richard Granger said the list was only a back up to be used if something went wrong.

The thing that has gone wrong is that software was due to be rolled out to trusts, starting in 2004. Many are still waiting now, having delayed their own scheduled upgrades to wait for NPfIT.

iSoft's deal with NPfIT set the stage for it to grab around 60 per cent of the market. But its next generation software, being developed in India, is running late, so it has had to roll out the older version as a stopgap.

Another key supplier, US firm Cerner, has made its products available on time but implementation has been far from smooth. Trusts have reportedly struggled to adapt its basic patient administration system (PAS) for the UK.

Conservative MP Richard Bacon told The Guardian that a move to a broader list of suppliers would only be effective if Connecting for Health bosses moved quickly to give trusts the freedom to choose their suppliers.

He said: "The [alternative supplier] catalogue needs to include all key systems - including PASs as well as clinical and departmental systems - and it [CfH] needs to make them available within months rather than years."

It also makes a nonsense of the whole (some might argue half-baked) idea behind NPfIT, which was to implement a single integrated system for the whole of the NHS. ®

Update:

iSoft says:

"It is important to understand that iSoft or Cerner do not have contracts directly with Connecting for Health (CfH) but with the prime contractors. In iSoft's case, these are with CSC. The prime contractors have a responsibility to contract with a range of software vendors to meet their contractual obligations with CfH.    "CSC and iSoft are working in very close collaboration both in the UK and in India to ensure we continue to deliver solutions successfully to the NHS. CSC and iSoft remain fully committed to the development of Lorenzo, CSC Alliance's strategic solution being developed by iSoft and due next year."

Connecting for Health says: "We can confirm that this is about additional capacity, not an alternative supplier list."

"We anticipate that we will be advertising through normal competitive public sector procurement rules to put in place framework contracts to ensure there is an available supply route of additional capacity and availability of resources to the NHS to meet future needs if required. The arrangements we are intending to put in place are business as usual for NHS Connecting for Health."

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