Suppliers and trusts are concerned that timescales are increasingly tight for spending the first £90m of technology fund money by April next year.
The £260m ‘Safer Wards, Safer Hospitals: Technology Fund’ was announced by health secretary Jeremy Hunt in May to catalyse the adoption of IT in the NHS.
An announcement of the winners was originally due at the end of October, but it has not yet been made.
Of the £260m, £90m must be spent in this financial year and £170m in the next and trusts must match any funding they receive. EHI understands that the delay is related to gaining Treasury approval.
JAC chief executive Robert Tysall-Blay said that in terms of e-prescribing and medicines management projects, an announcement needs to be made by 1 December or trusts starting running into the “Christmas slow-down”.
“It was already tight when they said end of October and it’s just making it worse,” he said.
“The issue is all the trusts are waiting and it’s almost irresponsible of the government to delay this because if they want to meet their digital agenda – what’s holding it up?
“We are all putting plans into place, but we can’t hit the go button until we have visibility of who’s been assigned funding for this first phase,” said Tysall-Blay.
He added that it is not clear what procurement restrictions NHS England will apply to the projects, but trusts are being encouraged to use frameworks such as the government G-Cloud to speed up the process.
“That’s good, but trusts need to make sure that their business case is in place and that they themselves are ready,” he said.
What is meant by ‘spending the money this financial year’ is also unclear. Tysall-Blay said that if this means getting a contract in place and the trust ring-fencing the money for the project to be delivered, that could be done.
“But it’s not possible to deliver a fully live solution from now until March. These things take anywhere from 6-18 months to implement,” he explained.
“An urgent response is required and an urgent announcement is required if industry and trusts are going to deliver on the first phase objective.”
Director of Graphnet Markus Bolton said the company has a number of clients with applications in for the tech fund and the majority are anticipating spend in this financial year.
“That’s possible because all of the projects are building on existing infrastructure and data that’s already there,” he explained.
The project plans have built in additional lead time for a late decision, but the company and trusts will struggle to deliver if the announcement continues to be delayed beyond early December.
“The NHS has often got into trouble in the past by taking a long time on its approval process without moving the end dates for its projects,” Bolton said.
If the delay continues, trusts will have to request that their project be moved into the second phase of funding, to be spent in the next financial year.
Bolton said the company has put resources in place to be able to “hit the ground running” when the announcement is made. Trusts have also put project teams in place.
“There’s a cost involved in doing that so the quicker we can get clarity the better,” he said.
King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust director of ICT Colin Sweeney said the later that the money comes to the trusts the less likely they are to be able to deliver in time.
“In our case there was one particular bid which comes under that category – the procurement and implementation of an electronic document management solution for the Bromley site. The procurement process is under way but that currently doesn’t involve paying anything out as yet,” he said.
NHS England was also due to announce the opening of the £100m Nursing Technology Fund in late October, however this has been delayed. Bids were due to be awarded by Christmas with the first £30m to be spent by April 2014.
Jim Chase, managing director of Advanced Health and Care, said delivery of projects within this timescale will be “challenging”.
“Much of the NHS is going to be preoccupied with winter pressures from now until January, which compresses the timescales further.”
Chase said providers may have to consider a “lighter touch” with regards to integration with community patient administration systems, as that will be the demanding part of projects.
However, he believes that if announcements are made early in the New Year, projects can be delivered in time.