Six southern acute procurement groups hope to hear by April whether their IT investment plans will be backed-up by central funding.

Twenty-one acute trusts that got nothing from the National Programme for IT in the NHS have formed collaborations to invest in a variety of IT systems ranging from e-prescribing to portals.

They aim to secure central funding for the systems and the consolidated outline business case is awaiting Cabinet Office and Treasury approval.

Frimley Park Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Trust and Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust have formed a group to procure a clinical electronic document management system.

Frimley Park chief executive Andrew Morris said the trusts decided to work together because they had similar patient administration systems and electronic patient record strategies.

“We are all putting best-of-breed systems in and working on putting a portal in to support clinicians. Obviously part of the strategy is getting to EPR and in doing so the very last bit of it is the EDM,” he said.

“We are all faced with 500,000-750,000 case notes that at some point we are going to have to make a decision about how we migrate that to the electronic arrangement.”

“The opportunity of working on a collaborative basis came up and we thought this is an area of mutual interest and we’ll put a proposal in.”

Morris said Frimley was committed to procuring an EDM system.

“If the bid is supported by the DH we are accepting the risk that if it needs more money we will have to top it up,” he said.

“But we have done our homework and three of us going to the market place should get the best possible deal and should get a lot of stimulation from the suppliers.”

He hoped to get an answer from the DH by April and was confident of a positive result

“We never got any money out of the Fujitsu Southern programme,” he explained.

“I would be surprised if we got nothing because we have all put a lot of effort in.”

The trusts hoped to go to tender this Autumn and deploy a couple of years after that.

The trusts did not want a product that simply “dumps all the data into a patient file”, but that re-presented the information to a clinician in a coherent way.

“Part of the trick is coming up with something visually attractive but that also conveys basic information,” Morris explained.

“Ultimately, technology has to beat paper.”

All three trusts will choose the same EDM supplier.

“That requires us having to work together to make sure that we sign off the spec and are clear about what we all want out of the system, because if we’re not clear we’ll find it difficult to agree on a successful tenderer.”

Morris said Frimley Park was working on replacing its feeder systems including a picture archiving and communications system. It has just put Ascribe’s Symphony into A&E and installed HSS’ Euroking in maternity.

The trust also recently went out to tender for an e-prescribing system.

Morris said the trust went for a best-of-breed approach because it wanted real-life examples of systems working successfully elsewhere before making an investment.

“We were in the Fujitsu roll-out and got our fingers burned a little bit collectively across the South of England so my strategy has been, if it works as a feeder system somewhere else in England, then it will work in Frimley.”

The trust was two years into a five-year strategy to achieve EPR.

“The reason we’re doing it, is it’s a way of offering patients better care,” he said.

“I’m committed to a sandpit of investment that will completely transform the way we operate because we’re still operating some process and systems as we did 20 years ago or when the health service was first set-up.”