One of the key features of the new emerging national strategy on NHS IT will be the selection of preferred suppliers for key systems. Ken Jacobson, European CEO of iSOFT , one of the largest UK-based health IT firms, gave E-Health Insider his perspective on how the supplier market can help the NHS achieve its objectives.

As someone who had worked in health IT, worked in other sectors and recently come back to health, Jacobson says that there have been some striking changes in recent years. "The biggest change for me is that there have been some very aggressive goals set".

Faced with the ambitious objectives being set by the Government, Jacobson says the focus for the industry and NHS must be on delivery. "The issue is how is the marketplace going to execute and implement against those goals? What will be different beyond more money and goals?"

The announcement by Sir John Pattison at HC2002 in March that there are to be standard specifications for key systems and preferred suppliers selected at a national level has led to predictions of a major round of consolidation among systems suppliers.

iSOFT is no stranger to the acquisitions trail, and over the past two years has acquired a string of health IT firms in Europe and Australia including: Paramedical Pty Ltd, Eclipsys Ltd and Eclipsys Australia, ACT Medisys.

"I think more consolidation and streamlining is a good thing, as long as there are still opportunities for entrepreneurship and innovation," commented Jacobson.

But in addition to consolidation among suppliers being needed, he added there was an urgent need to streamline the way the NHS procures IT systems. "We need to streamline and consolidate the various procurement processes in place," said Jacobson.

He added that one of the main reasons for past failures in NHS IT has been due to the NHS and suppliers not being open enough with each other. "I’m suggesting, personally, that the process of industry consolidation has to be a factor in streamlining and consolidating procurement processes."

Cutting procurement times would reduce the high costs and risks to suppliers present in the current lengthy, fragmented procurements and enable hospitals to get vital systems like electronic records in place much more quickly, Jacobson stressed.

Asked whether he was confident that iSOFT will be one of the main suppliers eventually short-listed by the Department of Health, Jacobson said: "Yes, I would hope so".

Given that iSOFT is home grown success story, a leading independent UK software firm with a market capitalisation of over £340m, and a proven track record in delivering precisely the applications — electronic records, e-prescribing an electronic booking — the new NHS IT strategy is now focused on, it would be a major shock if they are not short-listed by the DH.

However, Jacobson is at pains to stress that size and capacity should not be the only criteria by which the centre selects suppliers, and adds any national standards set should be regularly reviewed and monitored.

With key projects intended to define core standards for data, systems and national IT architecture due to be announced by the DH later this month, many suppliers have been furiously jostling for position behind the scenes forming consortia and alliances.

The most high-profile of the projects expected to be approved is the Microsoft-led Lightbulb consortium in Birmingham, understood to be based around developing electronic records for cancer care. Crucially this project is expected to develop and prove how a web services-based information architecture could be rapidly applied to the NHS nationally.

Despite being a Microsoft Certified Partner, and building all of its electronic patient record and electronic health record solutions based on the latest Microsoft technology, iSOFT is intriguingly not a member of Lighbulb.

Jacobson declined to comment on whether there are reasons for this apparent omission, and instead stressed the strength of the ties between iSOFT and Microsoft. "I believe that we’re one of the largest healthcare partners they have in Europe and the UK."

“The fact we are not a direct Lightbulb partner is not a problem for us,” said Jacobson, who added that speed was of the essence in getting the project up and running. "If it is to have any impact it does need to be adopted and implemented very quickly".

He did, however, add that in the partnerships that iSOFT does have, its main focus is to ensure it owns the "IPR (intellectual property rights) of solutions we develop".

Jacobson is enthusiastic about the challenge ahead and the potential of the technology now available to rapidly deliver the solutions the NHS needs. "Health is very exciting place to be in IT at the moment."

“Comparing XML, .Net and web services technology with the previous technology available is a different world,” he added. "Using these technologies we can now provide a complete EPR to a hospital within 12 months".