NHS Connecting for Health has acknowledged that the North West and West Midlands region will miss the March 2007 deadline for picture archiving and communications systems (PACS) to be fully implemented across England.

The delay follows the abandonment of the original contractual arrangements for delivering PACS and Radiology Information Systems (RIS) in the region.

Asked to confirm whether the March 2007 target would no longer be met, NHS Connecting for Health (CfH) told E-Health Insider: "For four clusters the objective remains to achieve 100% roll out by March 2007, this is a key deliverable as outlined in the contractual frameworks that are in place with the suppliers."

The spokesperson added: "Contractual arrangements are being reviewed in the NWWM cluster. Once this is concluded we will be in position to confirm the new roll out objectives."

CfH declined to say whether there were discussions with suppliers other than GE for PACS and HSS for RIS. It further declined to say whether either ComMedica or Kodak was in breach of their contract with local service provider, CSC.

Finally, the agency refused to say whether NHS trusts in NWWM are likely to face additional costs as a result of a switch to another PACS vendor.

The agency stated: "NHS CfH is in discussions with CSC regarding the provision of PACS in the NWWM cluster. So as not to prejudice the outcome of such discussions, we cannot further at this time.”

In May 2004 the then health minister John Hutton pledged that PACS would be fully implemented across England by the end of March 2007, making it one of the first clinical applications to be delivered by the NHS IT programme. However, since then the only NHS region to make any significant progress on PACS has been the South of England.

Latest figures from CfH state that to date Fujitsu and GE have delivered 15 PACS implementations in the South while BT and Philips have delivered six in London.

The region running the furthest behind is the North West and West Midlands (NWWM), where the decision by NHS CfH to replace ComMedica and Kodak as CSC’s sub-contractors, on PACS and RIS respectively, has led to protracted contractual wrangles. Despite CfH providing the certification authorising the ComMedica PACS solution to be deployed the agency has since effectively decided to terminate the contract.

Board papers from Cheshire and Merseyside strategic health authority make clear that irrespective of the contractual position a de facto decision has already been taken to switch to GE as the main PACS supplier in NWWM.

"Connecting for Health, the Cluster, the Strategic Health Authorities, and our local service provider are preparing a plan to implement an alternative system," says the SHA board paper. It goes on to make clear this alternative is GE. "The solution is the same as that already being implemented in more than 12 trusts in the southern cluster.”

The SHA paper also makes clear trusts will be required to find extra resources to fund the cost of the switch to GE. "Trusts will need to revise their business cases, as some additional costs have now been included in the contract price. The original target to implement 100% PACS by March 2007 has been extended to September 2007."

Last month ComMedica effectively closed its digital diagnostic imaging business laying off all but a handful of staff. ComMedica CEO Mark Simon said of the likely switch to GE: "Instead of securing a platform for an accelerated PACS deployment in 2006, which would have delivered significant benefits to clinicians and patients, the NHS in the North West and West Midlands now faces further delay and uncertainty."


ComMedica closes diagnostic imaging business