NHS trusts say the timescale for the £100m Nursing Technology Fund is challenging as they scramble to get applications ready with one week until the deadline.
The fund, which was announced by Prime Minister David Cameron in October 2012, only opened for bids at the beginning of December, after delays getting sign-off from Treasury.
Some £30m is available for projects this financial year, and the remaining £70m will be available as a second round of funding for the 2014-15 financial year.
In the first round, trusts can apply for funding for digital pens; mobile technology; systems for the collection and logging of vital signs and systems for uploading essential clinical information to digital care records.
Deborah Carter, associate director for clinical informatics and former deputy head of nursing at Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, told EHI that the timescales had “constrained” the trust, but it was still working on two projects.
One is to introduce mobile devices and to develop an electronic health record in community services. The other is to further roll out the trust’s Early Warning Assessment System and improve its functionality and alerting features.
“As the bidding process was announced right before the Christmas period, [we have had] a challenge in terms of getting the quality of submission right and ensuring that there has been effective stakeholder involvement,” she said.
“However, this has been achieved. The demonstration against return on investment has been particularly challenging in the timescale.”
Christine Walters at Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust echoed Carter’s views. “The timescales are tight but as soon as the fund was announced we started to work on the possible options and pulling together the required information to support the submission(s),” she said.
However, the trust has yet to decide exactly what projects to submit; unlike Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust.
Steve Jessop, the trust’s chief nursing information officer, said: “We are submitting an e-observation bid. We have a fully worked up business case; we just lack some funds to go ahead.
“If successful, we would look to implement very quickly to obtain the benefits.” Jessop added that because the project is ready to go, the trust is not worried about the tight deadline.
Neither is King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. Its director of ICT, Colin Sweeney, said it will be submitting a bid to support the full roll-out of the Wardware vital signs, observations, and early warning score system.
“I believe we know what we want to use the equipment for at the moment. So we should be OK about getting a bid together for the current requirements,” he said.
“The biggest issue is ensuring that the devices we choose are the right ones – not only for current but also future plans.”
A guidance document on the fund, published by NHS England, says each NHS organisation can apply for funding for a maximum of three projects in the 2013-14 financial year and three projects in the next.
Adrian Stevens, chief executive of Aura Healthcare, which is supporting several trusts with business cases for integrated ward workflow management and clinical noting solutions, told EHI that the fund “opens the door” for small and medium enterprises to prove that they can demonstrate a fast return on investment.
This and other initiatives are vital to reignite healthcare and to finally make the changes needed from the impasse caused by the national programme and deliver the tools required by the over-stretched and under-resourced nursing community,” Stevens said.
Dr Paul Rice, head of technology strategy at NHS England, told EHI that the fund is a “real opportunity to build on the excellent examples across the health service”, where technology is used by nurses and midwives to deliver better patient care.
“The launch of the fund has been well received by healthcare providers and we have had a positive response,” he said. “We will be looking at all applications in detail and funding decisions will be announced in February.”
More information about the application process for the second round of funding will be published in spring 2014.