John Cruickshank, the author of a well received report on ‘Fixing NHS IT’, has called for more clarity about its future direction following the effective end of the National Programme for IT in the NHS.
In an EHI TV interview, Cruickshank said a statement by health minister Simon Burns had signalled the end of the national programme "at least in name and central direction" but it was far from clear what would replace or augment it.
He said the healthcare IT community would be waiting for the information strategy promised for this autumn to discover more about the future national infrastructure and how the commitment to "honour" the programme’s local service provider contracts would fit with a "more locally-led" procurement process.
He also urged the government to make sure that the strategy aligned with its recent white paper, ‘Equity and excellence: liberating the NHS’, to avoid stagnation and fragmentation.
Cruickshank was the author of a report for the think-tank 2020Health on the future of NHS IT.
The March report, ‘Fixing NHS IT – an action plan for a new government’, called for an approach similar to the one Burns outlined, with national infrastructure retained, the Summary Care Record reviewed, and trusts allowed to purchase their own IT systems as long as they meet nationally agreed priorities.
However, like other analysts interviewed by E-Health Insider, Cruickshank felt that last week’s announcement leaves many questions unanswered.
He said: “There are one or two important words in the announcements saying that they are moving to a more locally led system of procurement.
"What does ‘more’ mean here? In our report we advocated that there is a place for the hospital equivalent of GPSOC, so that trusts get the benefits of centrally negotiated price and terms and conditions – but still have a choice.”
He called for the information strategy to reflect the aims of the government’s new white paper, ‘Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS’, which calls for the NHS to be “less insular and fragmented”.
Cruickshank said this could not be achieved without IT, but that the government needed to provide details on how national and local IT systems would work together to deliver it.
Cruickshank told EHI TV that the national programme is likely to be seen as a failure. However, he argued that as some of its elements continue to exist, it will give people a chance to “regroup and go forward and make sure NHS IT is a successful for the future.”
The danger, he added, is that giving trusts the option to go outside the programme may put NHS IT back ten years.
“Some will see IT as a real tool for change, others may take a more limited view which takes us back potentially to where we were a decade or more ago where it was a very fragmented environment.
"We’ve now got more national infrastructure but there is a risk that some trusts will put IT on the backburner and focus only on cost saving side of things.”
Watch the full interview, which also covers Cruickshank’s views on whether last week’s announcement could end up costing the NHS more overall, and what it means for suppliers, by clicking on the video.