A trust that pioneered the use of IT in the NHS is tendering for a new patient care information system because its 15-year-old software will not last until a replacement arrives from the National Programme for IT (NPfIT).

An OJEU advertisement issued by Wirral Hospitals NHS Trust says that implementation is planned to start in May of this year, and will need to be completed by summer 2007.

Trust chief executive, Frank Burns, explained: "Wirral Hospital fully supports the national programme and has no concerns about the ultimate functionality of the products procured. It is simply a problem of timing. For clinical safety reasons, we must replace our functionality-rich, 15-year-old system within the next two and a half years, and the national programme solution will not be ready in time."

"There is no mystery about the timing," Burns confirmed to E-Health Insider. "Our procurement was delayed pending the outcome of the NPfIT procurement as we would have preferred to adopt an NPfIT solution."

Neil Large, director of finance and ICT at Cheshire and Merseyside Strategic Health Authority, confirmed: "The trust faces exceptional circumstances, as it needs to replace its existing system by June 2007 in advance of rolling out the NPfIT ultimate solution." He continued that while NPfIT would eventually meet the trust’s requirements, it would not be "within the life of the existing system."

He explained that other trusts would be maintaining their existing systems for up to eight years before adopting the chosen NPfIT clinical system for their region.

Wirral, however, is not in a position to carry on upgrading its ageing system and the national programme has enabled organisations in this position to have immediate access to a high quality new solution.

"In short, Wirral’s interim solution is simply due to a timing issue and, having reviewed the business case, the SHA believes it is a pragmatic response to enable continuity of service," concluded Large.

The successful contractor will be required to develop software that interfaces both with the NPfIT’s systems and Wirral’s existing system, an Eclipsys TDS 7000 which has been implemented with "considerable tailoring", according to the tender document.

The document sets out a long list of areas to be covered by the new system and states that the solution will need to support the trust’s medium term aim of achieving a Level 6 electronic patient record. This is the highest level on the system set out by Information for Health, the 1998 Department of Health policy to which Burns contributed substantially.

Wirral has a high reputation for outstanding work in healthcare IT and Burns made clear when the national programme started that he would want to keep the trust’s work moving on.

"I couldn’t handle the lethargy in my organisation if we were put in a siding while the rest catch up. We need to make sure the pioneers keep pioneering. We need to demonstrate to the doubters that these things are possible," he told the Healthcare Computing 2003 conference.

The trust, located in the southern part of Merseyside, covers four hospitals: Arrowe Park Hospital; Clatterbridge General Hospital; Victoria Central Hospital and St Catherine’s Hospital. It falls in the North-west and West Midlands cluster whose NPfIT local service provider is CSC.  The chosen NPfIT clinical solution provider for the cluster is iSOFT.