NHS organisations should be able to choose from a range of ‘plug in’ applications to deliver care to patients, the NHS’ chief information officer has said.

In a keynote speech to the Primary Health Info conference, Christine Connelly also outlined a key role for the Interoperability Toolkit.

She told the 200 delegates she understood why people asked why there aren’t hundreds of applications available that can be used by NHS staff to get the information they need for patient care.

Returning to a theme of some of her early speeches after her appointment in 2007, she told the conference: “That is a really great question and a question we have been thinking about for two and a half years.”

The CIO likened her vision to the thinking behind an Apple iPad, in which users construct their own application portfolio, instead of being given a system that is assumed to meet all their needs.

Connelly said the Interoperability Toolkit would encourage suppliers to build accredited interfaces with the NHS, and that one of the aims was also to attract new suppliers.

“Instead of saying we are going to build this system and force everyone to use it we are creating options and choices and allowing people to pick the things they want.

"It is essential that the pace is not set by the slowest and that people who innovate drive the rest.”

Questioned on how the NHS’s IT needs could be met by an application-based approach, Connelly said: “We shouldn’t use the limitations of the most complex parts of our portfolio to not do the simple things for our patients that could make life a lot easier.”

Connelly also addressed the changes being introduced to the NHS by the ‘Liberating the NHS’ white paper and the subsequent Health Bill, which will hand commissioning to GP Commissioning Consortia.

She said the expectation was that consortia would design the way they wanted to work to meet the needs of their populations, and that there would be no single way of delivering IM&T to commissioning groups.

She said she hoped consortia would start out as groups “designing from the perspective of 2011 and beyond.”

Connelly also told the meeting the DH’s Information Strategy would be published once the ‘pause’ in Bill had ended.

She said the document initially expected at the end of last year’s ‘Information Revolution’ consultation had been reviewed in light of the ‘listening exercise’ about the reforms that is currently underway.

She also confirmed that talks were ongoing about a new informatics structure for the NHS in England, but said nothing had been decided as yet.

She said current plans were that each organisation would have its own informatics team, while there would be locally shared informatics organisations probably based on geography. 

There would also be a national role for the NHS Information Centre in collecting data and a national shared informatics organisation with the working title Health Informatics England.

She added: “The intention behind that is that when you look across the system there are things that we might want to do together and it is a chance to share learning rather than being told what to do. For some of the things we want to do we also have a scarce skill set.”

She said the plans were as yet approved but the current aim was for the national body to look after national contracts during the transition and to give time for the future informatics needs of the NHS to be determined once the NHS reorganisation had been introduced.