Formal supplier testing of Spine2 will begin within a few months and it will go-live in summer 2014.

Documents released to EHI reveal that the original NHS data Spine had cost more than £1 billion by March 2012.

Its replacement – Spine2 – is being built using open source components by Leeds firm BJSS.

A supplier briefing seen by EHI in April said formal supplier testing would begin in May with go-live in December, but these dates have been pushed back.

NHS England’s chief technology officer Alex Abbott told EHI that Spine2 has been in informal integration testing for a couple of months.

“Feedback has been really positive with good supplier engagement,” he said.

The core of the project is the redevelopment of Spine messaging and services, data migration from the Spine to Spine2 and the procurement of new hardware and hosting facilities.

Abbot said some of the issues highlighted by suppliers so far include message definition, with some instances of different interpretation in the new and old systems.

Formal integration testing will start within a month or two and all going well, Spine2 will go live next year.

“We have an existing service and are fundamentally changing the platform on which it is delivered, but what we want to achieve is a seamless transition,” Abbott said.

The Spine redevelopment is the forerunner of a different approach being taken to a number of large, national IT contracts which are being dismantled and replaced by in-house led projects using agile development principles and open source software.

“There’s a lot of excitement around the approach being taken for Spine2 and we are very keen to make it a success,” said Abbott.

“It’s got a potential to be a model for other programmes that want to look at different ways of working.”

BT holds the current contract for provision of the NHS Spine. Documents released to EHI by the National Audit Office reveal that the contract is estimated to cost £962m by its end of life, in 2004-2005 prices.

Delivery and support costs bring the final price tag up to £1.1 billion, of which more than £1 billion had been spent by March 2012.

Benefits by that date were estimated at around £400m and the final forecast benefit figure is more than £550m. The vast majority of benefit is due to improved data quality provided by the Secondary Uses Service, which has “reduced the overall error rates and therefore the financial error”, the report says.

Other benefits include; removing the need for registration of births via paper; enabling self-assessment of diabetes services; and reduced use of temporary NHS numbers.

A final NPfIT benefits report released by the Department of Health in June says that some areas of cost in the programme are not fully offset by the reported benefits achieved.

“National infrastructure programmes such as the provision of the NHS Spine were not forecast to deliver any direct quantifiable benefits,” it says.

“As set out in the original business cases, the investment in these programmes was made to provide underpinning infrastructure for national and local applications that would be supported and enabled by it.

The report acknowledges that despite millions in unplanned quantifiable benefits being derived from the Spine, this has not offset the lack of reported benefit from national and local services.

“In addition, the cost of developing and operating the NHS Spine is higher than would be expected if delivered with today’s technology and development methods.

“Replacement of the service is being designed on an agile, collaborative basis, learning the lessons of the past few years,” it adds.

Alex Abbott and his NHS England colleague Beverley Bryant will be speaking at EHI Live 2013 in a new ‘paperless or paper-lite’ stream. Their boss, Tim Kelsey, the national director of patients and information, will be the keynote speaker at this year’s conference, which isfree for all visitors to attend.