Health secretary Andrew Lansley has launched the EHI CCIO Leaders Network, saying it will help to bridge the gap between the IT that clinicians use in their day to day lives and the IT they have to use in the NHS.

Speaking at the Royal College of Physicians in central London, Lansley said it was “intolerable” that clinicians who regularly use a smarthphone to video chat with their colleagues have to spend weeks waiting for patient information to be sent by post.

But he said the gap had to be closed “by the leadership of those with their patients in mind, not by decree from central government.”

“In the past, doctors and nurses have had to bend over backwards to fit in the needs of the systems introduced in their workplaces.

"They were shacked with rigid, expensive, IT contracts that failed to deliver as intended,” he said.

“We are now putting local clinicians in the driving seat, able to reap the benefits of the explosion in information and technology that is reforming the world beyond the NHS.”

The launch of the EHI CCIO Leaders Network marks the end of the first phase of the EHI CCIO Campaign, which was set up to encourage all NHS providers to appoint a chief clinical information officer to lead on IT projects and the use of information to improve patient care.

The network is being developed in partnership with the RCP and the British Computer Society, with support from BT, Cerner and iSoft, to support the seven CCIOs that have already been appointed, and to help identify and promote more.

The network has dedicated pages on the EHI website, and will hold a series of events over the coming year, looking at everything from the business case for CCIOs, to how they might support standards and better record keeping, to their role in specific sectors, such as mental health.

Jon Hoeksma, the editor of eHealth Insider, said: “The response to the campaign has been terrific and the momentum it has generated will get the CCIO Leaders Network off to a flying start.

“We have nine further events planned for 2012, and an online channel that will be offering news, information and peer support to clinicians taking on these vital roles.”

At the launch event, Lansley aligned the network with the government’s broader direction on IT, which he said was to avoid top-down initiatives and give control to trusts and those working in them.

He confirmed that the government is determined to dismantle the remains of the National Programme for IT in the NHS, and that NHS Connecting for Health, the agency that runs it, will cease to exist after April 2013.

He said CfH will be replaced by a “leaner” delivery organisation to run N3 and national applications and services.

Lansley confirmed that the government has secured “over a billion pounds” reduction in its contract with CSC for the North, Midlands and East of England, and £1.8 billion from the programme’s contracts as a whole. 

He indicated that this money will be “released back to the NHS” – although he said no exact figures would be available until the deal with CSC is finally signed.

Lansley said that in future it would be essential for “clinical systems across the country to talk to each other” and to “exchange information safely in the interests of patients.”

As indicated in the ‘Liberating the NHS’ white paper, he said the NHS Commissioning Board in Leeds would take on the job of “championing national standards that are required to underpin local innovation and choice.”

Eleven royal medical colleges, 70 healthcare IT companies, and almost 200 individuals have backed the EHI CCIO Campaign, and more than 100 people attended the EHI CCIO Leaders Network launch.

Justin Whatling, BT Health’s chief clinical information officer, said: “BT has been fully behind eHealth Insider’s drive to establish the post of CCIO in UK healthcare organisations from the beginning.

"We are delighted to continue our support with this exciting evolution of the campaign.”

Alan Fowles, vice president and general manager Cerner UK and Ireland, said during the launch: “Cerner has proudly supported the CCIO campaign from the outset and it is exciting to see that support has gone from strength to strength.

“The most significant improvements are brought about when healthcare technology is closely aligned to medical practice.

"As a foundation sponsor of the CCIO Leaders Network, we look forward to the campaign pairing strong clinical leaders and innovative IT in the NHS in future."

Adrian Stevens, iSOFT’s managing director for UK and Ireland, Middle East and Africa, agreed, saying: “It is vital to involve clinicians at every step, from initial specification through procurement to delivery.

"We know from own experience the importance of involving our clinicians in product development and the readiness of our customers to embrace clinically rich developments.”