NHS IT suppliers have been told by the government's multibillion-pound National Programme for IT (NPfIT) that their own trade organisation must deal with their questions about where they stand with the programme.
James Drewer, healthcare programme manager at NHS suppliers' trade body Intellect, said he is discussing plans with NPfIT representatives for a web site that would take the burden of calls to the programme from suppliers.
"What Intellect doesn't know will be posted to members of the wider supplier community," he said. Drewer added that it is only when members cannot answer questions that NPfIT staff will step in. "We will give questions that have no satisfactory answer to the programme," he said.
Suppliers' concerns have often fallen on deaf ears, according to many in the channel, but this year research firm Ovum was commissioned by the NPfIT to act as a link for suppliers.
The programme also set up its own Existing Systems Programme, run by Peter Dyke, former head of Intellect's healthcare group. Dyke helps incumbent suppliers, including channel players, through the NPfIT compliance and accreditation process.
Suppliers, meanwhile, have become resigned to and are still courting Local Service Providers (LSPs), the five regional contract winners that control systems provision to the NHS, in the hope that some contracts trickle down to them.
Nikolas Solomon, managing director of radiology systems supplier Healthcare Software Systems, said he is hopeful the LSPs will use his systems. "It is going well," he said.
But he conceded that the LSP arrangement is bad for competition in the provision of NHS systems. Competitors who fail to forge legal relationships with LSPs will "disappear", he said.
Another observer said relations between LSPs and suppliers are improving. But he added: "The way the programme is structured it is likely that expertise will be sub-contracted by LSPs or acquired. It won't be the same market."
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