The NHS is no stranger to scandal when it comes to IT. In 2013, the National Programme for IT (NPFIT) was widely slammed by the government, with an estimated cost to the taxpayer of almost £10bn. Launched in 2002, the NPFIT was designed to reform the way the NHS in England uses information. The government admits that while "some parts" of the plan were delivered successfully, others encountered "significant difficulties".
Against this backdrop, it is perhaps unsurprising that IT suppliers report that in the recent past, some NHS organisations have been sceptical about procuring IT, viewing it as a potential risk factor.
Exclusive CRN research, as part of our Healthcare IT Hub, found that despite this, spending on IT among NHS Trusts appears to be on the up - increasing seven per cent annually in the financial year ending last March.
As part of the Healthcare IT Hub, CRN spoke to a number of NHS-focused IT suppliers, many of which report a renewed sense of optimism among NHS CIOs.
Simon Pettit, corporate director at Stone, said the NHS is finally catching up with the digital transformation trend which is sweeping local councils.
"The NHS has had a bad reputation with IT projects. So there is a focus away from thinking 'let's throw money at something to solve a problem'. They are becoming more sophisticated"
"We're seeing a lot of similarities between the NHS and local councils, possibly for the first time in that their main focus is shifting," he said. "Councils are, and have been for some time, looking at their accommodation strategy - closing buildings, reducing staff and making people more mobile. That's the case within the NHS. Even in terms of austerity [the NHS] stayed as they were and when you've got decisions like front-line services versus IT, IT suffers. However, without trying to make it a race, it appears the NHS has caught up to councils now and is saying 'how do we do things more efficiently and more effectively?' The NHS has got to the point where they have sweated their assets for so long that they need to invest in IT.
"A common theme is that from senior management downwards IT is seen as the solution, not the problem. That's a big change of focus. That change is politically motivated in some respects. The NHS has had a bad reputation with IT projects. So there is a focus away from thinking 'let's throw money at something to solve a problem'. They are becoming more sophisticated and finding ways to become more efficient in front-line services."
Faith Clayton, head of regional government at Computacenter, agrees and said the NHS knows that investing in IT is long overdue.
"It is very clear that the NHS is facing an unprecedented gap in terms of their funding, but the conversation I am having with CIOs is that there is a degree of acknowledgement that if organisations are going to meet the drive to the digital agenda by 2020, they are going to have to put some investment into IT," she said. "I am not massively surprised to see [the increase] because there are these infrastructure projects they are trying to do as they get ready to drive this digital transformation they are aiming for."
NHS-focused IT provider Redcentric recently won the contract for a "vital piece" of the HCSN Peering Exchange services contract, which replaces the N3 programme which was previously delivered through BT.
Redcentric's public sector director Mark Hall said this win is indicative of his firm's recent success in the NHS, and also of the health service's ambition to move with the times.
"When you look at the real bigger picture, how do hospitals connect with GPs, with pharmacies? How do you provide the end-to-end patient path for the underlying network?" he said. "That's gone through a really big change. I am going to mention the HCSN Peering Exchange - we all know we've won it. That's a massive part of it - it accommodates new technology; it will deliver a joined-up way of delivering care. In the future, the likes of me and you can log into a PC at home and interact with our own care. HCSN is absolutely key to that. With that Exchange, it's a three-year contract with the three-year extension. It's the core of this. That's going to be the infrastructure for the next generation of cloud."
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