EE will take over the provision of SMS services for GPs in England using NHSmail from 1 July.
EE will replace current supplier Vodafone and manage the national NHSmail SMS service on an interim basis until 31 September.
From October, primary care organisations will have to pay for their own SMS service as part of plans to remove central funding for the system.
The arrangement was confirmed earlier this month by Beverley Bryant, NHS England’s director of digital technology patients and information, in a letter sent to financial heads at clinical commissioning groups.
In the letter she says that EE was chosen via an e-auction with support from the Crown Commercial Service, the central Government procurement agency.
She adds that the price “represents a reduction in excess of 20% on the current contract price with Vodafone, with no need for organisations to re-configure their systems.”
Bryant also says that EE will honour this price for primary care organisations looking for a new SMS provider after the national contract ends.
However, one NHS messaging provider, Wirefast, has published the results of a survey it carried out last month, which it says reveals that many trusts are concerned about what will happen on the 30 June changeover date and about data security issues.
According to Wirefast, which has a new service called Onboard, 70% of NHS trusts are not clear which providers are security-audited and comply with NHS information governance standards.
In addition, 37% are concerned that the changeover will impact services and cause disruption. Of the trusts who took part in the survey only 28% have taken action to put a transition plan in place.
The Department of Health announced last year its intention to remove central funding for the provision of SMS in NHSmail as the service was getting too expensive to run.
In her letter Bryant says: “It is believed that rising costs is caused by unconstrained usage and will be reduced through devolved control, local funding and thus local accountability for SMS service contracts.”
The original plan was for NHS England to stop providing SMS services for primary care organisations by 31 March 2015.
However, NHS England announced in December last year it planned to extend central funding by six months in order to “provide additional time for existing primary care services, to make provisions with general practices, to transition this to a local service from 1 October 2015.”
The announcement was welcomed at the time by Dr Paul Cundy, joint chairman of the British Medical Association and Royal College of GPs’ joint IT committee, who said hoped the six-month extension would provide a chance to secure permanent funding of SMS services for primary care.
Bryant’s letter also explains that, in recognition of these concerns, CCG budgets for GP IT have been increased by about 2% above 2014-15 levels. The provision of messaging capability is also now considered a ‘core’ requirement within the GPIT Operating Framework review.
The letter asks CCGs to confirm to NHS England whether they intend to go with the extended service from EE or if they are procuring an alternative provider to provide SMS services from September.
A briefing document published by NHS England’s Digital Primary Care Team says that CCGs opting for a local provider will need to “engage with your GPSoC Suppliers, and chosen SMS provider to confirm any local configuration requirements that may be required and any associated costs.”
The HSCIC has also posted plans for what will happen with NHSmail SMS service in other NHS organisations, including NHS Scotland which will receive a service provided by EE up until 31 March 2017.
For secondary care in NHS England there are 170 organisations who switched to a new contract with EE using the CCS framework on 1 April 2015.
A spokesperson for the HSCIC said: “Transition for secondary care organisations contracted to EE under the Crown Commercial Service Framework occurred smoothly.”
Other secondary care organisations were meant to have switched to new providers on either 1 April or 1 May.