The Department of Health has taken the first step towards re-tendering the Electronic Staff Record that is used across the NHS in England and Wales.

It has published a prior information notice in the Official Journal of the European Union, saying it is looking at options for re-procuring one of the first, big national IT projects to be delivered across the health service.

The current contract for the ESR is held by McKesson, but comes to an end in August 2015. The prior information notice says the DH wants to re-procure the service to “ensure continuity” in a contract worth contract worth £250m-£450m.

“It is anticipated that DH will require suppliers to transition the existing system (which will be a DH asset from expiry of the current contract) from the incumbent supplier, operate the existing system, and undertake future enhancements to increase functionality in the asset,” it says.

The original ESR contract was worth £325m when awarded to McKesson in 2001, and was the largest NHS IT contract before NPfIT.

The company was tasked with creating an “integrated HR and payroll system” for the health service to replace the huge number of HR and payroll systems that were in use.

The move was in line with New Labour’s early reforms, which talked about replacing the ‘internal market’ with a ‘corporate NHS’ with its own HR, finance and e-commerce systems. The ESR was the only project to get off the ground.

Despite this, the complex system took years to develop and deploy. The roll out finally began in 2005 and was finally completed, twelve waves later, in 2008.

The OJEU notice invites suppliers to participate in a series of market engagement events to shape the requirements of the staff record system on 4, 8 and 16 October.

“These events will provide a forum for potential suppliers to gain a broad understanding of the opportunity and emerging plans for the future provision of the ESR service and function,” the notice says.

“The objectives of the events will include introducing the project and requirements to the supplier market, introducing the current services to the market and providing insights into the emerging plans for the commercial approach.”

According to McKesson, the original ESR replaced 28 payroll systems, 67 HR systems and 1,702 in-house trust systems and serves £1.3m people working in the NHS. It was upgraded to run on an Oracle platform in 2011.