NHS IT will face tough times over the coming year and there will be changes to the National Programme for IT in the NHS whoever wins the coming general election.

That is the view of more than 20 politicians, analysts, suppliers and IT managers asked to look ahead to 2010 by E-Health Insider.

Many of those interviewed felt that the NHS is already starting to feel the purse strings tighten and that healthcare IT will need to work hard to prove its worth in the last year of growth in funding.

Steve Leggetter, e-record programme director at Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “UK public services will be required to respond to a new administration – whatever the result of the general election.

”It will require us to demonstrate the improvement in outcomes as a result of new interventions; and with the squeeze on the public purse, there will be an unprecedented need to answer these questions faster than ever before."

Chancellor Alistair Darling used the Pre-Budget Report to promise that spending on NHS ‘frontline’ services will rise at the same rate as inflation once the NHS’ current settlement with the Treasury runs out at the end of 2010-11.

However, this only covers 95% of NHS spending and is far less than the 7% increases the health service has got used to over the past decade.

At the same time, it is likely to see increasing demand from an ageing population with a higher burden of chronic disease. Moreover, NHS IT could be hit directly, with an announcement already made that at least £600m will be cut from NPfIT.

Frances Blunden, senior policy manager at the NHS Confederation, urged caution in cutting investment in IT. “Whatever happens, trusts will need to invest in effective IT systems as these will be crucial tools in delivering efficiencies,” she said.

Stephen O’Brien, Conservative health spokesperson, told EHI he wanted more clarity around where the programme will be ‘trimmed’.

“A pressing issue that I would like to see resolved in 2010 is where the £600m spending cut recently announced by [health secretary] Andy Burnham will hit the NPfIT.”

On a brighter note, Adrian Byrne, IM&T director at Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust, pointed out that there are ways to survive the economic downturn; arguing that the key will be systems that support efficiency and offer genuine business and clinical benefits.

Murray Bywater, managing director at Silicon Bridge Research, said this was likely to make business intelligence solutions and clinical data integration at the point of care pivotal areas at a local level.

Jonathan Edwards, Gartner’s European healthcare research director, agreed adding: “NHS trusts will be investing in low-cost interoperability solutions that enable then to share critical data between GP, community and acute care organisations."

Many interviewees also saw the downturn as an opportunity to make people take more responsibility for their own health and for giving IT a new role in delivering patient information and feedack services.

However, there was some concern about the impact of the coming general election, which must be held by June.

Although many interviewees looked foward to the changes to the national programme that might be made by a new administration, others warned that political change can mean policy blight.

"Likely themes for 2010 are going to be reduced central funding for NPfIT systems and correspondingly increased emphasis on local responsibility/choice, plus hiatus/indecision/paralysis created by pre and post election uncertainty on policy and priorities for NHS health informatics," summed up Mik Horswell, spokesperson for UKCHIP.

Related article: Read all about it: 2010