Digital Health News understands that NHS England is in negotiations with Microsoft to put in place a new enterprise-wide agreement for Microsoft Office software across the English NHS.

Will Smart, chief information officer (CIO) of NHS England, is understood to be engaged in ongoing negotiations with Microsoft, with a proposal on the table that initially focuses on enabling NHS trusts throughout England to migrate to the latest Windows operating systems.

It’s believed the proposed enterprise-wide agreement (EWA) would also provide a path for NHS organisations to later move onto Microsoft’s cloud-based Office 365 platform.

Office 2010 is due to cease being supported by Microsoft in 2020, at which point NHS trusts who wish to continue to use Office software will need to move to Office 365.

Unlike previous editions of Office, 365 is charged as a service, creating new licensing challenges for NHS organisations, particularly how to fund through revenue rather than capital.

One trust CIO told Digital Health News that shifting to Office 365 represented an ideal moment for a new national EWA to simplify complex new licensing arrangements and harness the collective purchasing muscle of the NHS.

“Office 365 is a revenue annual spend, a completely different animal. Unavoidable cost is coming unless an EWA is done.”

The NHS already separately licenses the email and related collaboration components of Office 365 through its NHSmail2 contract delivered by Accenture.

Some NHS trusts are currently getting caught out by software audits that are often showing that they are not fully licensed for all the Microsoft software they run, and as a result facing hefty additional licensing costs.

Digital Health News approached NHS England and the Department of Health (DH) for comment.

A DH spokesperson confirmed that it was “aware that discussions between NHS England and Microsoft were underway”, but declined to comment further.

It is unclear whether the proposed EWA would be funded in full or part, but it appears that there will be some national investment, both in software and the hardware upgrades that many trusts would need in order to run current versions of Microsoft.

NHS England is advising trusts to continue to conclude licensing agreements with Microsoft, and indicated these will then be retrospectively incorporated into any national deal.

It is also unknown whether a licensing deal would extend to SQL and server licensing.  There has been speculation that a licensing deal with Oracle might accompany a Microsoft agreement.

NHS England negotiating new EWA with Microsoft

· Will Smart is said be negotiating a new EWA with Microsoft
· Agreement would see Office 2010 deployed across the English NHS
· Trusts would migrate to Office 365 as Office 2010 support expires in 2020
· NHS England’s last EWA with Microsoft expired in 2010
· Trusts have been under increased pressure to move to new software since WannaCry

Windows shopping

The NHS had a £500m EWA with Microsoft that expired in 2010, after running for nine years.

The decision not to renew the EWA provided a short-term cost saving to the DH but shifted the cost of licensing Microsoft products onto individual trusts, many of which have struggled to maintain their licensing and upgrades ever since.

The end of the deal in 2010 has been cited as contributing to some trusts dragging their feet moving away from the redundant Windows XP and Windows 7 platforms.

Support for Windows XP was officially withdrawn in April 2014 but as many as 20% of NHS organisations are still making use of the operating system, and around 90% are thought to run something on it somewhere within their organisation.

Pressure has been mounting on the NHS to move away from older Microsoft operating systems, particularly since the global Wannacry outbreak in May.

The subsequent investigation by the National Audit Office revealed that NHS trusts had been warned about potential risks of using outdated software three years before the WannaCry outbreak.

The impact of WannaCry, which affected 81 of the 236 NHS trusts in England, led NHS Digital to negotiate a  custom support agreement with NHS Digital in August to patch all its devices running on Windows XP.

The custom agreement covers all NHS organisations in the UK, with the contract running until June 2018. This coincides with a government report issued in July, which stated that Windows XP support will be withdrawn nation-wide next year.

Extended support for Windows 7 is due to end in 2020.