Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust is to implement a clinical portal to help move its systems forward 50 years.

The trust’s board decided last week to give the go-ahead to a £4.5m portal project, to give staff access to trust systems and, eventually, to open up access to local GPs.

Mike Baker, finance director at the trust, told eHealth Insider: “There is a clear need for integrated IT systems in our hospitals and this portal will allow us to re-engineer our clinical processes. The systems currently being used belong in the 1950s and 60s.”

The EHI Intelligence NHS Trust Database shows that the trust is using McKesson’s Totalcare patient administration system. McKesson bought System C in May last year.

Colchester board papers relating to the portal project say the trust will need to tender for a supplier, but System C has been identified as a possible fit with its strategic direction.

Baker also told EHI that managers and clinicians had visited Aintree University Hospital in Liverpool, where System C’s Medway Sigma system has been linked with EMIS Web to give acute staff and GPs access to information held in each others’ systems.

Baker said: “We visited Aintree University Hospital in Liverpool where this clinical portal is also in place and clinicians were impressed with the efficiency of the system.”

Colchester will need to replace Totalcare next year, when it will no longer be fully supported by McKesson under a deal signed between the company and the Department of Health in 2010.

The board papers say its replacement will need to integrate with the clinical portal.

Colchester was slated to receive Lorenzo from CSC, the local service provider for the North, Midlands and East, as part of the National Programme for IT in the NHS.

However, CSC has struggled to develop Lorenzo and deploy it to trusts. Baker said: “Over the last year we have looked for alternatives to integrate systems and improve patient care and safety.”

The board papers say the lack of integration between trust systems means "they are cumbersome for clinicians to use and there is still considerable reliance upon paper records and manual re-keying of data.”

The trust looked at developing a portal in-house, but concluded that it would be better to buy an off-the-shelf solution.

Some of the money for the portal will be found from existing projects, while the local primary care trust has agreed to chip-in £800,000, as long as the portal is extended to GPs.

The trust expects the portal to deliver financial, as well as clinical and patient safety benefits, and to pay for itself over seven years.

The board papers suggest financial savings will come from reducing the work of medical secretaries, outpatient clerks and staff involved in clinical audit, and from speeding up clinics so fewer clinics need to be run.

The board papers also indicate that the trust is looking to avoid fines that might be imposed by commissioners for providing them with incomplete data, and to secure its market share in a more competitive provider market.

However, Baker said the main reason for extending portal access to GPs would be to help “reduce readmissions.”

“By providing GPs with access to hospital records and discharge summaries we should improve the follow-up procedures” he said.

The trust hopes the roll-out will start in April at Colchester General and Essex County hospitals.