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Connelly delivers November ultimatum

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The Department of Health's director general for informatics has told CfH suppliers to deliver 'significant progress' by November, and is opening the market for southern hospitals.

"We will be working closely with the NHS and our current suppliers to improve the pace of delivery," said Christine Connelly, who has just completed a review of NHS Connecting for Health's work.

"If we don't see significant progress by the end of November 2009, then we will move to a new plan for delivering informatics to healthcare," she added.

Connelly also said she is opening the market for supplying hospital trusts in the south of England with immediate effect, except for those trusts managed by BT, using CfH's additional supply capability and capacity framework. BT already supports eight hospital trusts using Cerner Millennium, and said last week that it will implement this system in four more.

The Department of Health will also establish a toolkit allowing products to be developed by trusts, accredited centrally and then used for other existing deployments of Cerner and Lorenzo, the two systems which most trusts are installing. This is planned for completion in March 2010.

Although many aspects of the National Programme for IT are well advanced, the installation of core systems for hospitals is around four years behind schedule. This weekend, Conservative leader David Cameron described it as a waste of money, and put forward an alternative approach based on personally controlled online health records.

But Connelly said that her review had shown her that the core aims and the procurement model of the programme should be retained – the latter because it pays suppliers on successful delivery of working systems. The programme has cost significantly less than expected to date, as a result of slow delivery.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Connelly said she was not ruling out terminating the contracts of the suppliers, including CSC and BT, but added that she preferred to make the current systems and solutions a success.

"This review has shown me just how committed NHS trusts are to achieving the aims of the National Programme for Information Technology," said Connelly in a statement. "By improving information sharing, we can make a real difference to the quality and safety of services for patients and support more flexible and personalised care, which is what patients have told us they want.

"We now want to open up the healthcare IT market to new suppliers and new technological developments, to inject more pace into this programme," she added. "Working together we can help trusts configure systems to best meet their local needs as well as take advantage of market developments to make more use of the information held in the core systems."

"Since the Fujitsu contract termination there have been clear indications that CfH would open NPfIT to new suppliers," said Victor Almeida, Kable's senior health analyst. "NHS chief executive David Nicholson acknowledged last month that Cerner and Lorenzo are at a very delicate stage and that the programme would probably resort to new suppliers.

"CfH is grudgingly beginning to recognise that mistakes have been made and that it can no longer rely on a small pool of suppliers with limited capacity to deliver such an ambitious initiative. It now accepts that the additional services framework is central to the existence of the NPfIT instead of just a 'safety blanket'," he added.

"NPfIT began a decentralisation process three years ago, moving commissioning and implementation duties from central to regional and local level. The disintegration of the supplier landscape is an inevitable consequence of this."

This article was originally published at Kable.

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