The UK launch of an open source vendor neutral archive is a “key piece of the jigsaw puzzle” to create an open digital health ecosystem, NHS England’s head of open source has said.

The VNA, developed by SynApps Solutions and Alfresco, has already attracted interest from the NHS, with Bolton NHS Foundation Trust among those contemplating a pilot of the system.

The two companies say the open source approach will allow trusts to take “full ownership of the code” and develop it to meet their own requirements, while also using NHS apps built on the platform.

Backers of the VNA say it may allow trusts to expand beyond the traditional use of the system for radiology images to cover other unstructured data, assisting the development of portals and other initiatives.

Peter Coates, NHS England's open source programme manager, said: “I think this is a key piece of the jigsaw puzzle of a whole open digital ecosystem that we’re all going to need to enable data portability and integration.”

He told EHI News the open nature of the VNA means that data will not be “locked in” to a specific format or vendor.

“This brings an element of choice into the market place for trusts, because they’re no longer locked into a single format or a single supplier.”

Coates said this is of particular value for unstructured data such as letters, documents and images, which can then be stored in an open format.

Rachel Dunscombe, Bolton’s chief information officer, told EHI News the trust is looking into funding options to pilot the VNA as a first-of-type site in the UK.

“It’s a very fresh, very new solution, but we are investigating it, both in the greater Manchester-wide area and within our trust.”

Dunscombe said the architecture of the open source VNA means it will have more open interfaces, making it “very much complementary” to a trust’s electronic patient record system.

“Traditionally it’s just been seen as a radiology repository, but in Europe only 20% of the VNAs are used for that. It can be a repository for everything that an EPR doesn’t do.

“Most of the existing VNAs don’t have that ethos or mindset of encompassing all non-structured content, but it should really be about putting all content in.”

Dunscombe said more trusts may implement open source VNAs to support the development of portals and population health systems, whilst also enabling patient care pathways to extend across multiple organisations.

Tony Backhouse, SynApps' business development manager, told EHI News the company is already speaking with a number of trusts, and has been "working very closely" with NHS England on a potential pilot of the system.

Jean van Vuuren, Alfresco’s head of UK and Ireland healthcare, said: “We are really excited about…coming together with a medical solution that is open source at a time when the NHS is really starting to be open to the possibilities that entails.”