NHS trusts have expressed concern that there is not enough time to complete applications to the £260m Technology Fund, with just a week to the deadline.
Trusts were given just a month to apply to the ‘Safer Hospitals, Safer Wards Technology Fund’ when NHS England issued its guidance on the hospital end of the integrated digital care record concept on 1 July.
The guidance said NHS England was looking for bids to help trusts at the start of their digital journey, to promote e-prescribing and scheduling, and to support information sharing.
There is no limit to how many bids a trust can make or how much money they can ask for, but applicants must match any funding received.
Beverley Bryant, the director of strategic systems and technology at NHS England, told EHI that she had received questions from trusts worried about the deadline and the requirement to find match funding.
However, she said that if trusts had clinical ownership, board level support for delivery, and “an existing IT or technology strategy” they should apply. Further details may be figured out during the due diligence phase in August and September.
“My message to trusts is: if you have plans developed at any stage of completeness to adopt safe, digital record keeping or electronic prescribing, or you want to extend your integrated digital records across a care boundary, then just apply,” she said.
“If you are still developing your sourcing strategy, trying to secure revenue funding, navigating the market, or contemplating how you will embed NHS Number into your existing architecture then we can assist with these questions.”
EHI contacted a number of trusts and asked them about their tech fund plans. This revealed that some trusts are planning multiple bids, often for projects that were already in the pipeline.
Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, for example, has entered a total of seven bids. The trust’s deputy IT director, Eileen Jessop, told EHI that three of them related to e-prescribing, scheduling, and the development of its eHealth record.
One is a joint bid with King’s College Hospital, UCL Partners and Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, with which the trust is collaborating on open source projects. The rest relate to the local mental health and community trust.
Jessop said the bid process had been busy but: “The bid detail level required is achievable in the time frame.”
Colin Sweeney, director of ICT at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said it had already submitted one bid and was looking to get a second one in before the deadline next Wednesday.
“The bid we have already submitted is for an electronic document management solution primarily aimed at the digitisation of paper records at Bromley Hospital,” he said.
“The second one is to connect our open source integration engine to the Patient Demographic Service, so that we improve the population of NHS Numbers on our systems.”
He added that the deadline was not a worry: “Both items were in our plans and the limiting factor with progressing them sooner rather than later was fully funding them.”
Some of the tech fund will be spent on further exploring the creation of an NHS version of the US Veterans Health Association’s open source electronic medical record, VistA.
On the form, applicants can tick a box, expressing their interest in looking at the open source version. Some companies and trusts have told EHI that they think trusts will ‘tick the box’ for VistA, in the hope of improving their chances of securing funding.
However, Scott Sommerville, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust group IT director, told EHI that the trust would not be doing this. “We’re not interested in the NHS VistA option, as our strategy is already set on other options,” he said.
He added: “We’re in the process of pulling bids together, time is tight to produce the expressions of interest but we’ll make the deadline.”
Kings will not be exploring the VistA option either; but Leeds is keen to see what it can offer, because of its ongoing investment in open source.
Some £90m of the tech fund cash will be available in this financial year and £170m in the next. This funding must be spent before the end of March 2015.