The global digital exemplar and accompanying fast follower programme will be used to fundamentally change how NHS trusts buy IT systems, potentially removing the need for future procurements.

One of NHS England’s most senior directors suggested that if the GDE programme goes well, it will result in a ‘blueprint’ cookie cutter model for other trusts to follow, and end the need for competitive public procurements.

Matthew Swindells, NHS England’s national director for operations and information, told the iLinks conference on Wednesday, 5 July, that the GDE programme will lead to a change in the procurement model used by the NHS.

“At the core of the GDE model is the idea that we should be learning from each other. If the GDE and fast follower model goes well in the future, nobody will run procurements to buy IT systems again.”

Instead, he said they would pick from an existing proven blueprint to follow: “They will run an evaluation and decide who they want to partner with.”

The GDE scheme is NHS England’s flagship initiative, where the country’s most digitally advanced trusts are getting central funding, to become templates for others to follow. To date, 16 acute GDEs and seven mental health GDEs have been announced, who are expected to each receive £10m and £5m respectively.

The GDEs are expected to produce best practice and technical guidance blueprints for other trusts to follow, and have fast follower trusts who partner and learn from them and receive a smaller portion of central funding.

Speaking to Digital Health News after his keynote, Swindells said that “by default” trusts would deploy the same IT system that its chosen exemplar used “rather than I’m running a procurement for an IT system, so it’s really turning the model round”.

However, this would need to be squared with current procurement regulations, requiring competitive tenders or use of previously negotiated framework contracts.

The Crown Commercial Service is responsible for the legal framework for public sector procurement. The government’s website says the over-riding policy requirement is that public procurement must be based on value for money, and “this should be achieved through competition, unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary”.

Swindells said: “We need to make sure that that’s done in an open and transparent and competitive way that complies with the procurement regulations”.

“It’s really to try and change the model and say ‘one NHS’ and how do we partner, how do we create a mixed market of vendors.”

“We’re not trying to do the national programme [NPfIT] and standardise IT systems”, he said, but wants to lower the costs of procurement and implementation.

Speaking to the iLinks audience in Liverpool, Swindells said the NHS is poor at replicating its successes, but that the GDE model intends to change that.

“One of the things that the NHS is dreadful at is spreading when you’re successful”, he said, “if we’re going to break through, if we’re going to do so in a way we can afford to do, we’ll have to find what works and spread it more effectively”.

“The whole GDE model is built around the idea that we will learn together, we will get better at it and then we will spread.”

At iLinks the chief executives from Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust and Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, also spoke, detailing their GDE plans.

Louise Shepherd, chief executive at Alder Hey, announced that The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust, would be the children’s hospital’s fast follower.

Both specialist trusts use Meditech for their IT systems.

David Allison, chief executive at Wirral, said that Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, would be its first fast follower. He added that the trust was working with the other Cerner GDEs to deliver the digital ambitions.

ILinks, organised by NHS Informatics Merseyside, was attended by about 600 people to showcase digital health across the Liverpool region. The area has the highest concentration of GDEs in the country, with four trusts being selected.

NHS England chose not to comment further on this story.