Trusts 'at risk' not using open source

NHS trusts should consider using open source software as a way of saving money, ensuring control and stability, and enabling innovation; according to a session at EHI Live 2011.

The conference, which is being held at the NEC in Birmingham, heard from three speakers heavily involved in introducing open source to the NHS.

Malcolm Newbury, founder of Guildfoss Limited, said the use of open source software in the NHS could give trusts much more control and stability within the market.

He said the current reliance on proprietary software suppliers was making trusts vulnerable.

“If I was an NHS trust with a limited budget I would want to make sure that I had complete control over the costs involved," he said.

“If you are running a piece of software that is proprietary, it could be taken away tomorrow and killed as a product and force you into a migration pathway that wasn’t in your plan – and that could be quite costly."

EHI Live 2011 is running a skunkworks on open source software to share ideas and innovation.

Newbury said trusts across the country should look to set up similar local skunkworks to “take groups of people outside of their normal working foundations and empower them. All it needs is the willingness to create rather than to buy.”

Tony Shannon, the clinical lead for informatics at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, shared his trust’s experience of building its own clinical portal and offering it as open source software.

“It’s not pretty,” he confessed. “You might say that the code isn’t great, but it is out there.”

The portal is currently running in the trust’s emergency department, and the trust was looking to roll it out to other specialities.

He said the driver for using open source was to enable innovators at the forefront of healthcare IT.

“The issue is there is currently, in healthcare, a disconnect between those who are trying to innovate at the forefront, and the National and International standards bodies that are out there.”

The Cabinet Office’s lead on open source, Qamar Yunus, said the government’s dedication to introducing open source software to departments in its ICT strategy, published in March, was to ensure taxpayers’ money was spent in the most effective way possible.

“We are not doing this so proprietary providers bring their prices down, because that would only be temporary, but it’s only open source that offers true value for money over the total cost of ownership.”

He said the ‘myth’ that open source was less secure then proprietary had been dispelled, and every government department was now mandated to look at both proprietary and open source software.

Last updated: 8 November 2011 08:12

Shanna Crispin

7 November 2011

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