The new NHS interoperability toolkit has the potential to drive down the cost of interoperability and innovation, according to the Department of Health’s chief technology officer.

In an exclusive interview with E-Health Insider, Paul Jones said the first cut of the toolkit – based on ‘about’ 22 messaging standards plus guidance – has the potential to open up the NHS IT market to new players, ranging from hospital IT departments to industry giants like Oracle and SAP.

The first ‘layer’ of the toolkit – a set of interoperability standards – was released to suppliers through Intellect last month. It will be piloted at a couple of NHS sites. The fully fledged toolkit has been promised by director of informatics Christine Connelly by next March.

Jones said the toolkit was about “layering new functionality on core systems more quickly than would otherwise be possible” and that the initiative delivered the clearest possible message that NHS Connecting for Health stood full- square behind interoperability.

“Can we reduce the cost of interoperability and reduce the costs of innovation? I think we can,” he said. “The idea is to open up the functionality and data we have in the main LSP applications. It will allow niche guys to develop niche applications.”

Jones says the response from suppliers has been very positive. “Suppliers want standards.” The hope is that common interoperability standards will enable trusts and developers to develop discrete applications that will run on top of the nationally procured Lorenzo and Millennium CRS systems.

Because they will use nationally defined interoperability standards, NHS hospitals should be able to use new toolkit-based applications quickly and without the expense and time of bespoke local integration. This would also avoid the need to repeatedly go through the DH’s National Integration Centre.

Jones pointed to appointment reminders as one example. “Lorenzo does not come with SMS appointment reminders. We could put it on the list with CSC, but it would go onto a pretty long priority list. So someone else would provide an application that would do that.”

New applications and modules could come from suppliers and from the NHS, where good in-house development teams remain. Jones pointed to two examples: “Steve Fairclough at Morecambe Bay runs a good shop, and King’s has developed some good iSoft modules that are used by other hospitals.”

As well as clearing the path for new niche applications, the twin aim is to open up data in local service provider applications; almost virgin territory area for imaginative new services. “Do I know how the market will use that data?” Jones asked. “No I don’t. But I do want people to innovate.”

The CTO hopes that lowering the bar on interoperability will also make the NHS market more attractive to highly capable new players. “We hope it will open the door to some of the big players not currently involved, like SAP and Oracle. If we could make the environment look more homogenous to these kinds of players it could make the market more open.”

The trick, he acknowledged, will be to square the new emphasis on interoperability and innovation with the realities of the LSP contracts, and the strategic systems bought from their two main suppliers.

Jones said he deliberately steered away from using the ‘app store’ label for the toolkit. Anyone expecting an explosion of simple, Apple iPhone-style clinical applications is going to be sorely disappointed. “Everyone gets the idea, but an iPhone is less complex than a district general hospital,” Jones said.

Jones also said he expects some changes to the toolkit messaging standards, based on feedback from the NHS and suppliers. He said the March deadline is about showing this can be done. “But for now it’s about publishing standards and getting suppliers to open up the APIs [Application Programming Interfaces].”

Enquiries about the toolkit should be directed to


Link to toolkit

More information on the NHS Interoperability toolkit is available via the NHS Connecting for Health Terminology Reference Data Update Distribution Service.