The transition away from local service provider contracts in the North, Midlands and East of England is a huge risk that will need to be carefully managed over the next 18 months.

Speaking at EHI Live 2014 in Birmingham, Mary Barber, the CSC LSP programme director at the Health and Social Care Information Centre, said the date for the end of the contracts – 7 July 2016 – should be in the diary of every NHS IT director in the regions.

And she warned: “This will not be a safe place to be on 8 July, if we do not get this right.”

Barber told her audience at the Health CIO Network annual conference at the show, that the end of the contracts that were placed by the National Programme for IT in the NHS a decade ago, would unleash a huge amount of demand for systems that suppliers might struggle to meet.

She said that in total, 266 organisations in the NME were impacted in some way. If the organisations that work with GPs are taken out of the equation, then 216 are involved. And if the organisations that are already taking action are taken out of the equation, then 186 are.

At the same time, she said, NHS England and the HSCIC have been able to identify ten to 12 suppliers that may be able to meet their requirements.

“There are 180 organisations that are part of a group that is about to go to market, or that is still working out what to do,” she said. “That is a massive demand that the market may not be able to cope with.

“We think there are ten or 12 suppliers that can provide services. So there is an opportunity here for them to get into what we hope will be a more vibrant market than has existed for the past eight years or so.

“But if 180 organisations are procuring from ten to 12 suppliers, then they [the suppliers] will cherry-pick. Some organisations, that are less headline, could be left behind.”

Barber urged her chief information officer audience to think about its options, to look at the NHS Shared Business Service framework that NHS England is supporting to make procurements easier, to share business requirements documents with each other, and to run join tenders if possible.

However, she acknowledged that the end of the NPfIT contracts was going to throw up other challenges; not least financial challenges.

“CSC [the Lorenzo and interim patient administration systems that the company installed as part of NPfIT] have been free goods,” she said. “Often, trusts will not even have known how much they cost.

“From July 2016, trusts will have to find their own funding; and you should be talking to your finance directors about that.”

Barber argued that on the upside, there was evidence that trusts valued IT that they procured themselves, and were more likely to derive strategic and business benefits from it.

However, a member of the audience said that his organisation had made a decision to stick with its existing supplier; only to get a quote that was “extortionate.”

Barber advised him to email details to her, so she could build up a picture of what trusts were being asked to pay. “Treasury wants to know if there is scope for savings,” she said. “If I have the data, then if it looks like we need to have some tough conversations [with suppliers] we can have them.”

She concluded by underlining the scale of the task ahead: “I have been involved in change management for many years and if I really thought about this I would not sleep at night,” she said.

“The risk will not go away for a while. Some of the tools that we are testing [to help] have not been tested at volume, and there are financial issues to sort out. We cannot just say it will be fine. If we say that, it won’t”