The Thames Valley Integrated Care Records Services (ICRS) collaborative procurement has become the latest high-profile NHS electronic records project to be put on hold, following a local decision to halt the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) procurement.

At a meeting on 20 June the Programme Board in charge of the Thames Valley project decided to hold the project in ‘abeyance’ until the position in relation to the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) in the NHS and local IT funding issues become clearer.

“We are basically taking stock in light of the National Programme and local funding,” Tom Beale, Thames Valley Collaborative ICRS Programme Director, told E-Health Insider. “We want to be sure that it’s a good use of taxpayer’s money to pursue a PFI procurement if the National Programme will deliver what we want.”

Mr Beale added that the Collaborative had to take account of the wider context of the National Programme, which will see the whole of the Southern region of England move forward in a second stage Local Service Provider (LSP) procurement. But he stressed: “The National Programme has never said stop.”

In a statement the board of the Thames Valley ICRS Collaboration stressed that considerable progress had been made, but explained: “Recently, however, negotiations with our potential providers have been impacted by the actions in other parts of the country and lack of certainty about the timing and availability of central funds.”

These negotiations with suppliers had included reaching an agreement under which the final bidders, Cerner and a consortia led by IDX and Logica CMG, had committed to ‘retrofit’ prices to National Programme prices. In return the suppliers had sought cast-iron commitments on sources of funding for the 10-year lifetime of the project.

“Our suppliers asked us to confirm categorically what our sources of funding and affordability were,” explained Mr Beale. “But we hadn’t got that all agreed and we couldn’t give that confirmation.” He added that the Collaborative had not been looking for any handouts.

“We need to go back to the Board of Directors of each trust and ask: are we going to move forward faster than the National Programme; and are we going to get significantly more value moving forward under a PFI contract,” stated Mr Beale.

Thames Valley says it will now evaluate the National Programme against its own local ICRS plans, and will continue to pursue local plans to secure the necessary funding to complete the programme as well as working on organisational development and IT strategy across members of the Collaboration.

Mr Beale said the aim was now to use the experience gained from the Collaborative to try and ensure that it can be an early implementation when LSP contracts are awarded, and to extend the work to other parts of the local health community. “Whatever the deadlines we will get an ICRS solution, we just need to take stock of all of the variables.”

Five NHS Trusts are members of the Thames Valley Collaborative: Milton Keynes General Hospital, Buckinghamshire Hospitals, Heatherwood and Wrexham Park, Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals, and the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre. The Collaborative mainly focuses on the acute sector but also includes some community hospitals run by local primary care trusts.

The original outline business case for Thames Valley was produced back in June 2000, with the current membership of the collaborative coming together a year later in the summer of 2001.

The Collaborative’s announcement follows unrelated decisions earlier this year to end the Shires collaborative procurement in the South West and Blackberd Electronic Patient Record procurement in Birmingham and the Black Country.

The decision to put the procurement into abeyance seems certain to cause consternation to the two suppliers that had been short-listed, IDX and Cerner. IDX has now had the misfortune to have made it to the final selection stage at both the Shires and Thames Valley collaborative electronic record procurements, only to then see the two projects respectively ended and put in abeyance.