A quarter of NHS trusts are on the verge of investing in electronic patient record systems, with a fifth looking to run their own procurements, eHealth Insider’s second annual survey of acute sector IT suggests.

The survey – completed by 120 NHS IT directors, managers and users from across the UK – shows that IT services and budgets remain under pressure.

A significant number of respondents said their priorities for the coming year were simply to keep systems up and running or to squeeze more efficiency out of small-scale projects.

Yet as the National Programme for IT in the NHS begins its long wind-down, some trusts are planning significant IT investments.

Only a third of respondents said their trust had either ‘received an EPR from the programme’ (14%) or ‘bought its own EPR and doesn’t need to invest in one’ (24%).

The rest said they needed an EPR and would wait for the remains of the programme to deliver (5.5%) or go out to tender (20%).

A number of respondents also listed “PAS replacement”, “going live with a full EPR”, “stabilising and rolling out an EPR” and “maintaining current systems while supporting a PAS upgrade and data migration to an in-house, clinical EPR system” as their ‘biggest challenge’ for the coming year.

Other trusts are planning to go down the ‘best of breed’ route, with a quarter of respondents (27%) saying they would take this route to EPR.

EHI ran the survey last month. It was completed by people working in hospital IT departments (31%), shared services (23%), information analysis and clinical practice.

Just under half of respondents (47%) worked in the North, Midlands and East and in large trusts with between 500 and 1,000 beds (48%).

The survey focused on the impact of the Lansley reforms on the NHS and the ‘Nicholson challenge’ for the NHS as a whole to make efficiency savings of £20 billion by 2014-15.

Unsurprisingly, it found that trusts and their IT staff are under significant financial strain. Less than one in ten respondents (9%) said their trust’s budget would be flat or would increase in the coming year.

Half said their trust would be looking for financial savings of up to 5% or 5-10%, in line with national targets and four in ten said their trust was looking for much bigger savings.

However, this was a significant reduction on last year, when three quarters of respondents thought their organisations would be looking for savings of more than 10% or 20%.

In line with these findings, more than one in ten of respondents thought their IT budget would increase this year, but a quarter thought it would be flat and a further third thought it would be cut by up to 10%; leaving a fifth to predict much bigger cuts.

The survey suggests this pressure is continuing to translate into uncertainty about jobs. When asked about their department or service’s main priority for the coming year, a fifth of respondents said it would be to ‘reduce costs, even if this means a poorer service’ (10%) or to ‘keep our current systems up and running’ (14%).

However, a quarter of respondents said it would be to ‘deliver a major PAS/EPR upgrade’ and a further 12% said it would be to invest in departmental and clinical systems.

A number of respondents reported a new interest in IT from their trust boards and said they were behind such big investments.

“We have a new chief information officer, who is an IT professional, on the board for the first time in 15 years – that shows board commitment to technology enabled change,” one wrote.

Electronic patient records: the £2.7 billion opportunity’ is a report from EHI Intelligence and can be purchased by contacting EHI Intelligence’s sales manager Dan Read

The report is the part of this year’s Market Forecast Report from EHI Intelligence, which will be published in full in November. All of the reports in the series are based on data held in the EHI Intelligence NHS Trust Database, which holds validated data on the major IT systems in use across the NHS, original interviews and expert analysis of tenders and other documents.

For more information about EHI Intelligence, the market forecast series and the database, visit EHI Intelligence’s dedicated webpages