There is still a market for small and medium players in healthcare IT but the name of the game is process and cultural change, not trying to sell technology and systems. 

That was the message for delegates at a conference for SMEs trying to get to grips with the new healthcare ICT market in England following the award of the major contracts under the National Programme for IT.

Keynote speaker Phil Sissons of Magic Consulting, former industry relations manager for NPfIT, told to the audience: “The LSPs [local service providers] don’t care that you’ve got the best EPR system.  They are not interested in you helping them to empty the swamp; they are killing alligators."

He explained that the national programme had transferred “significant risk" to the LSP contract winners who were now entirely focused on risk reduction through achieving delivery timescales.  He recommended SMEs to concentrate on selling services that could help them achieve that.

The stakes are high. Sissons explained that LSPs would not be paid until they had delivered and delivery meant showing clinical benefits. “There’s a big risk they will do all this work and not see any money."

He advised delegates to set their most pedantic marketer the task of re-reading the national programme outline business specification (OBS) document to identify areas where their company could add value.

Sissons said there was also work to be done with NHS trusts because there was a lot that would not be paid for by the national programme.  Specifically, he highlighted areas such as change management, benefits realisation and identification and training.

Products could be sold, he said, but they had to be items that were needed now, could be locally funded and which were likely to be a low priority for the LSP. He suggested that areas for exploration could be: social care, mental health, disease management, departmental systems and National Service Framework focused systems.

The task for sales teams was to sell in both trusts and the LSPs, but not to the national programme. To help SME delegates to work out what was covered by the national programme and what was not, Sissons explained the different areas covered by so-called ‘core bundles’ of work funded by national programme money and ‘additional bundles’ and ‘additional service bundles’ which are not covered.

“£6.3 billion sounds like an awful lot of bread but we are talking about a major component of activity within the NHS.  There’s a lot that is not paid for by NPfIT," he said.

The conference, organised by the British Journal of Healthcare Computing at Ashridge Management College, attracted over 100 delegates from small and medium-sized suppliers. The national programme and its new outsourced industry liaison consultants, Ovum, were not present but promised to listen to any points made and respond to questions posed.

Conference organiser, Nettie de Glanville, issued a statement to delegates saying that, due to a clustering of circumstances, it has not been possible for a senior, knowledgeable person from the national programme office to be present.  Gordon Hextall, the NPfIT’s chief operating officer, promised he would follow up any issues raised at the conference.