Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has gone out to tender for a new maternity system and key elements of a new electronic health record system, outside the National Programme for IT (NPfIT). The trust is making the move to mitigate risks created by delays to the Connecting for Health programme growing beyond the current two years.

The trust faces an urgent requirement for a new maternity system, as its existing McKesson system will not be supported beyond next June. The foundation trust is also seeking a new PAS system, a replacement for which CfH had originally promised to provide by January 2005.

Brian Steven, the trust’s finance director told E-Health Insider: “We’ve been given notice that our maternity system will no longer be supported by July.” He confirmed that the trust had previously been exploring taking the iSoft maternity offering from LSP Accenture.

Steven said that with an absolute deadline looming the trust was “looking to make a final decision this side of Christmas”.

Newcastle becomes the latest independent foundation hospital trust to seek to procure for key systems independently of the late-running £12bn NHS IT upgrade programme. The trust says that it is developing alternatives as the CfH programme is now running two years late, and may be subject to further delays.

A September trust board paper says that continued delays in the provision of key systems are having an adverse impact on the operation of the trust. “Further delays in the realisation of these benefits are likely to have a negative impact on sustaining an effective trading position.”

The trust follows in the footsteps of Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust which in August issued an OJEU advert and carried out a full procurement exercise. Bradford were subsequently persuaded to return to a CfH system as it was about to award a contract.

Earlier this year Newcastle issued an OJEU notice for three other key operational systems: order communications, electronic prescribing and theatres. Bids are currently being evaluated by the trust with contracts due to be awarded by February 2007.

Steven told EHI: “We are acutely aware that the 18-week target [coming in from December 2008] on waits has to be one of the top priorities for the trust. We decided to investigate whether the system being offered was absolutely fit for purpose.”

He added: “as a Foundation trust we need to make sure we get it absolutely right and the fit of IT is absolutely crucial”. Steven stressed the trust remained committed to the “NPfIT family”.

A September trust board paper spells out why it has tendered for a maternity system, an A&E system and patient administration system: “The business and operational circumstances as a Foundation trust do suggest there is an urgent need to consider replacement of these systems as matter of priority and outside the national programme.”

The paper says: “The original Connecting for Health programme is running two years late” with there being “no immediate prospect of system delivery”. It adds: “The trust had originally planned to implement a replacement PAS on 18 January 2005 as the start of an incremental EPR development.”

Newcastle is located in the North-east cluster of the programme, where Accenture was last month replaced as prime contractor by CSC. Before being replaced Accenture had largely ceased work on new hospital implementations while in negotiations with Connecting for Health, the DH agency responsible for the programme.

The advert in the Official Journal of the European Commission (OJEU) calls for the “delivery, installation, commissioning, training and support of the trust’s incremental progress towards a full EPR”.

The notice says that the solution will “need to be compatible with the National Programme for IT” and that this must be achieved “either through interfaces to existing and future local systems or through additional system modules.”

The trust says that in line with the original CfH Strategic Outline Case, it had worked with Accenture on developing projects for A&E, maternity and theatre systems. “This work has ceased as a consequence of the disengagement of Accenture. Disappointingly the trust was informed on 30 May 2006 that Accenture did not have a commercial agreement with CfH to deliver these systems.”

Newcastle faces an urgent requirement for a new maternity system as its existing supplier McKesson has told the trust that it will not support the current OMS maternity system beyond 30 June 2007.

“There is now an overriding and unavoidable requirement for a replacement maternity as well as the final determination of the options for replacing the A&E and PAS systems,” state the board papers.

As a result the trust says it urgently requires an integrated maternity system “to support hospital and community based services”, and is talking the opportunity to simultaneously “test the market for A&E and PAS systems” at the same time.

Newcastle makes clear that it plans to keeps its options open for the time-being and that its OJEU advert could result in more competitive submissions from suppliers yet keeping the trust’s options open if CfH be subject to further delays.

“In essence should the national programme develop successful applications within the timeframe then there is the option of accepting those applications.”