At the NHS Innovation Expo event next week NHS England will announce the 20 acute trusts it has chosen to become ‘fast followers’ in its flagship Global Digital Exemplar programme.

A year ago, at NHS Expo 2016, secretary of state for health Jeremy Hunt first announced that limited investment funds will be targetted at 12 ‘exemplar’ NHS hospital trusts, a number that subsequently grew to 16.

The GDE programme was based on the recommendations in Robert Wachter’s review of NHS IT that trusts were at different stages of readiness and that limited investment should initially be channelled to those that were furthest advanced. This was to provide reference sites for less ready ‘followers’ to learn from.

One year on, Digital Health News understands NHS England will next week announce the second division trusts that will be matched to the exemplars and each will receive a smaller amount of funding to become ‘followers’.

Each of the 20 second-tier trusts are expected the be awarded £5 million, half of the £10 million being awarded to each of the 16 GDEs.

Referred to as ‘fast followers’, the tier two trusts will be expected to follow the digital plans, ‘blueprints’, of the exemplar they are matched with.

Although NHS England has stressed that much of the GDE programme will centre on sharing best practice, processes and methodologies, standardisation of systems is a central tenet of the GDE policy.

NHS England director, Matthew Swindells, has indicated the GDE programme is intended to lead to the NHS standardising on a handful of clinical software suppliers.

One supplier, in particular, currently dominates the acute GDE line-up: Cerner.

Of the 16 chosen acute GDEs, six currently run Cerner, a number set to grow to seven with Chelsea and Westminster being matched to Imperial – 43% of the 16 current GDE trusts.

The true significance of the acute fast follower announcements may be the extent to which it amplifies and further entrenches the position of incumbent GDE suppliers.

A significant number of the tier-two trusts are expected go out to procurement for EPR systems that match those of the exemplar they are following, others will share systems or have their clinical systems run by the examplars.

In July, NHS England director Matthew Swindells told HSJ that trusts expecting central money will in the future have to buy their IT system through a GDE trust.