The continued delay in the announcement of who has won money from the second round of the technology fund is putting projects at risk, according to a survey run by EHI.
The fund, officially called the ‘Integrated Digital Care Technology Fund’, was launched in May last year, and was supposed to deliver £240 million of central money for trust IT and community information sharing projects.
Bids had to be in by July, for evaluation by September. NHS England’s director of strategic systems and technology, Beverley Bryant, told EHI Live 2014 in November that she was “beyond sorry” that the results had not been announced, and indicated that the hold up lay with Treasury ministers.
However, the commissioning board is still unable to say when the details will be released. EHI launched a short survey last week to uncover the impact, and this was completed by 50 readers in total.
Almost two thirds (28 of the 48 that answered this question) said it had “put the project in jeopardy / led to additional trust spending”, while one said they had already abandoned their plans.
“The delay in announcing the successful bidders is reprehensible,” one respondent added. “Procuring and implementing IT systems is expensive. Time and money has been wasted waiting. If the budget has been reallocated, then we need to be made aware.”
A number of respondents felt that some or all of the money has probably been lost to other, more political priorities, such as the ‘winter crisis’. However, a theme of responses to the survey was that trusts should be told one way or another.
“It’s deeply frustrating, but I am almost feeling sympathy with NHS England, as the issues now seem to lie at ministerial level,” one wrote. “Even if the answer is ‘no’, just tell us and we can plan accordingly.”
EHI reported in August that 226 bids worth £360m had been made to tech fund 2. Trusts were able to bid for acute IT systems, particularly e-prescribing, and for projects to share information across healthcare communities.
Almost half (31 of 46) respondents said they had submitted bids for integrated digital care record or information sharing projects, and these respondents were particularly likely to say that the delay was alienating stakeholders and suppliers.
“The delay in announcing the level of funding has led to delays in the commitment of the partners to allocating further funding until the outcome of the bid is clear,” one wrote. “The delay has caused paralysis, and has eroded some credibility with partners,” another commented.
Trusts looking for funding for e-prescribing, electronic document management, portals and EPR systems were more likely to say the delay would give rise to additional costs, for example because they were juggling revenue and capital spending, had been forced to retain project staff, or suppliers had put their prices up.
“The delay has caused us to re-phase and re-plan to enable in-year spend, and prevented proper project kick-offs,” one wrote. “It places the entire initiative, which looked like our best opportunity in years to achieve this, at risk.”
Respondents warned that they really needed to know about the outcome of tech fund 2 by the end of January, as this was the last point at which they could commit funds or sign contracts.
“I fear the funds have gone. But some statement al la ‘nothing will be announced until we’re post election’ would help,” one concluded.
Read more about the survey results and the impact of the delay to the tech fund 2 announcement in Insight.