The Department of Health has launched a user forum to support development of its interoperability toolkit.

The forum attracted representatives from around one in five NHS organisations to its first meetings ten days ago.

The meetings in Leeds and London were attended by IT directors and leads from 97 organisations, many of them shared services.

The mood was described as “positive” by the DH and by people who attended. E-Health Insider did not attend, but spoke to a number of senior NHS IT managers who did.

Richard Haigh, ITK senior project manager at the DH, told EHI: “We have been piloting the ITK for the last 18 months. Now we have opened it up en masse through a user forum.

“We see this as a way to gain consensus about current interoperability challenges and to provide a voice for the NHS.”

He added: “We were pleasantly surprised by the number of people who turned up and by the open dialogue. People came with a degree of passion about the interoperability challenge.”

The user forum plans to meet quarterly. It will be led by a management team of NHS trust directors and senior project managers. They will decide direction and priorities for the ITK, Haigh said.

Alongside this, there will be an ITK Tech Forum involving vendors, trusts, specialist staff from the DH Informatics Directorate and standards development organisations.

This forum will develop standards in response to the user group requirements against which vendors can be accredited.

John Thornbury, directror of ICT Worcestershire Health Services, said: “It is to the DH’s credit that they are allowing users at ground level to decide the priority and importance of the messaging that is required.”

Read more about the views of NHS IT managers who attended the first meetings of the new forum in opinion and analysis.