NHS trusts must put sustained local investment into their IT to complement investment from the National IT Programme, health minister Lord Hunt told a London conference this week.

He said investment from the National Programme will be made “very much around a condition that the NHS locally invests its resources too.”

The changes ahead were not a one-off injection of cash, he said, adding, “There is going to have to be a sustained investment in IT in the NHS over many many years.”

But the rewards could be great. “I’m convinced that the next big productivity shift is through the use of information,” said Lord Hunt.

Precisely where the boundaries lie between local and national investment is not clear at present. Lord Hunt said the Department of Health was still talking to the Treasury about how the £2.3 billion of capital announced for the next three years could be used.

The conference, Making IT Happen Within the NHS, organised by Laing & Buisson, heard that strategic health authorities were taking stock of local investment and assets to develop a baseline assessment of NHS IT. Current and planned investment, an inventory of current ICT assets and an assessment of organisational readiness for the changes ahead are being compiled.

Chris Hoare, director of knowledge and information for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight Strategic Health Authority, reported quite wide differences between the poorer and more generous investors among the NHS organisations in her area. She pointed particularly to low investment in systems for community staff.

Lord Hunt emphasised the DH’s determination to move to national standards and accepted that some would not be very happy about that. “There are a lot of companies who will not meet national specifications and a lot of clinicians who are wedded to software programmes they have developed themselves.

“The National Programme is going to cause pain. We are prepared to take the pain. We are not prepared to continue along the ‘cottage industry’ approach.”