The Southern Local Clinical Systems programme is looking to procure one or a number of portal solutions as part of an integration project.

Chief information officer for NHS South East Coast Tad Matus is leading on the ‘integration’ project and ‘community and child health’ systems procurement, which together with ‘acute’ and ‘ambulance’ make up the Southern Programme.

The programme is for providers in the South that otherwise got nothing from the National Programme for IT in the NHS.

The organisations are hoping to attract central funding for their procurements. Funding for the community and child health project has already been approved.

Matus said integration across organisational boundaries is the “heart” of what the NPfIT set out to achieve.

The aim of the southern project is to make information available to all healthcare professionals treating patients when they need it and without having to access a series of different systems.

Also, the ability to send and receive messages and manage security.

“It’s the glue that pulls all of the systems together so you can look at them through one portal and see what you need to about the patient,” Matus said.

“There are a number of suppliers who have done that in individual smaller health communities, so we’re taking that to the next level of scale.”

Matus said the plan is not to have one shared record for the entire South, but to break the area into smaller “integration communities” where the clinical pathways mean organisations need to work together.

“If everybody did it there would be a dozen, but what we may well do is work with three or four first where commissioning is more stable,” he said.

The key issue yet to sort out is who should hold the contract. Sensibly this should be the commissioner, but as primary care trusts are winding down they cannot sign the contract and CCGs are not fully formed so cannot hold the contract either.

“Integration’s the most important one (project in the Southern Programme) and is technically feasible, it’s just that it’s difficult because, with multiple organisations involved, who holds the contract and drives it and keeps the community together?” Matus asked.

“This is in some ways a more important candidate for central funding than the single organisation solutions. With those it’s clear who would fund it if not centrally, but here it’s much messier because the costs may well fall to a different organisation to the benefits.”

Following talks with the Cabinet Office, those driving the project determined that they want to make bidding available to as many suppliers as possible. There will be separate contracts for each community and it is possible that each may go with different suppliers.

The team working on the project has worked closely with potential suppliers through Intellect and has already gathered a number of supplier presentations to show clinicians, Matus added.