The Department of Health is urging community services to evaluate their information systems and set priorities for the future using its newly-published community information model.

The model forms part of a report, Transforming Community Services: Improving Information for Stakeholders, produced by a working group of strategic health authorities and primary care trusts set up following the publication of Lord Darzi’s Next Stage Review of the NHS last year.

The working group reviewed existing community information systems and refined and tested its information model on 35 PCTs.

Its review of existing information systems found that “many are currently immature, disparate, hold non-standardised data and are not integrated with systems in other parts of the NHS." 

However, it also said there were “many emerging examples of good practice and many innovative solutions."

Coleen Milligan, community information project manager for Transforming Community Services, said there had been no national framework to benchmark systems against to date, and that a self-assessment tool developed alongside the information model should prove very valuable for community services.

She added: “Here’s a tool that organisations can use to benchmark themselves against neighbouring organisations and gain from those who are more developed.”

The working group found that existing systems fell into three categories: National Programme for IT in the NHS systems, other purpose built systems, and systems based on Microsoft Office software.

It said functionality and data collection varied greatly from one organisation to another, there was a lack of common data standards and the ability to share and transfer information across health and social care providers also varied significantly.

It classified systems according to five components and five maturity levels ranging from ‘basic’ to ‘leading’.

It added: “Analysis from the self-assessment tools has indicated that a considerable degree of development is required for most organisations’ information systems to become advanced or leading. There is therefore significant scope for improvement and for transferring good practice from other organisations.”

The most common enablers to success were identified as aligning project objectives to business objectives, having an internal sponsor, the need to meet legal requirements and the involvement of stakeholders. Key barriers were the capacity to deliver, data quality and time.

The working group said there was no short term fix that would transform an information model from basic to leading but there was good practice and development being undertaken within organisations.

It said specific elements of good practice could be transferred from one organisation to another and a series of case studies featuring good practice are included in the report.

Milligan said the information model was the first phase of Transforming Community Services work on information systems and the next step would be to develop a standard data set for community services.

Transforming Community Services said it welcomed feedback on the report which should be sent to: