InterSystems has become the first IT supplier to achieve NHS Interoperability Toolkit accreditation from the NHS, for an integration solution based on Ensemble.

The accreditation was provided by the National Integration Centre and Assurance (NICA) Technology Office, part of the Department of Health’s informatics directorate.

The InterSystems ITK is built on InterSystems Ensemble, an dedicated platform for integration and the development of new connectable applications.

The news comes as the DH informatics directorate gives fresh impetus to the ITK programme, which was launched over 18-months ago, following the completion of proof of concept pilots.

Director general of informatics Christine Connelly first announced ITK in March 2009, with the scope of initial message standards broadened in January 2010 to take in areas such as discharge summaries.

Nine ITK consortia were due to have completed ITK proof of concept witness testing by the end of March.

In addition to InterSystems, other integration middlewear vendors that are understood to have been working on ITK include Microsoft with Biztalk, Oracle with Fusion and Orion with its Rhapsody integration engine.

With the continued scaling back of scope and coverage of the ‘national’ NHS IT programme, the DH is now banking on best of breed and legacy systems helping trusts to ‘connect all’ their IT systems.

The ‘Liberating the NHS’ white paper explicitly rejects the previous failed strategy of “replace all” NHS systems in favour of “connect all” – although it is thin on the detail of how this is to be achieved or what the limits of interoperability may be.

InterSystems says its Ensemble-based ITK offering will support these goals by building incremental value on existing services and providing enhanced interoperability between them. “As such it will lower the cost associated with future integration significantly,” said InterSystems

The Toolkit specification is a set of technical and governance standards and frameworks for interoperability. It covers a set of transactional and analytical services.

To achieve the milestone for its integration platform being used as ITK middleware, InterSystems has spent the last eight months working closely with London NHS trusts in various clinical settings and successfully completed a rigorous testing process.

The testing process included predefined validation checks using the ITK ‘Testbench’, which included positive interface testing, negative testing, and end-to-end simulation. This culminated in a thorough compliance report.

The DH informatics directorate has been quiet about the objectives of ITK, but appears to hope that accrediting ITK solutions will offer trusts the ability to deliver greater flexibility with their IT infrastructure by lowering the barriers for the entry of new breakthrough applications and device-enabled services.

Among the services piloted was a self-service kiosk for patient self check-in and feedback at outpatient clinics.

In addition to NPfIT suppliers BR and CSC, and clinical vendors iSoft and Cerner, the pilots included clinical system vendors currently outside the two remaining local service provider contracts, including: Oasis, System C, Graphnet, Intersystems and Kainos.

Brett Marshall, head of the DH National Integration Centre, commented: “Standards-driven interoperability is the key to improving the patient experience.

"I am confident that the ITK will lead to innovative new approaches to the delivery of care and will put information in the hands of the patient. InterSystems has been at the forefront of the initiative since its inception and is the first company to achieve a full accreditation.”

Jonathan Selby, InterSystems country manager, UK, added: “The ITK is a brand new generation of user-configurable healthcare integration that enables NHS trusts to unlock more of the value of their IT investment.

"They can ensure that new breakthrough applications will work seamlessly with the tried-and-tested legacy systems, in an affordable and sustainable manner.”

InterSystems Ensemble already has a widely-installed base in the UK NHS as the default data centre integration platform for CSC. It is also used by BT, and many individual NHS Trusts.