Future funding for NHS England’s flagship Local Health and Care Records (LHCRE) initiative may be redirected to help new spending pledges made by the Conservative Government, Digital Health News has learnt.

Last week, Number 10 pledged £1.8 billion for NHS infrastructure and £250m for a National Artificial Intelligence Lab.

It’s understood that this could be funded by money redirected from the LHCRE programme.

There are also suggestions that the LHCRE programme may be about to be overhauled, or significantly reshaped and replaced by a different approach to shared records.

The LHCRE programme is the NHS’s flagship initiative for developing eight shared records reference sites across the English NHS, to then be extended across all parts of England and provide the foundation for regional data lakes for research.

Digital Health News has been told that funds, including those for LHCREs, may have been redirected at the behest of Dominic Cummings, the special advisor to new Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The moves come as the government clears the decks to prepare for a possible no-deal Brexit and risk of a general election, re-directing money into headline-friendly NHS funding announcements.

The five first-wave LHCRE sites, selected in May 2018, were Greater Manchester, Wessex and OneLondon, plus Thames Valley and Yorkshire and Humber.

Each first-wave regional projects were promised £7.5m, with funding for London later doubled to £15m. A further three second-wave projects were promised £5.4m each, totalling a little over £61m.

Funding, almost all capital, has been slow to be distributed. Digital Health understands that initial blocks of the first-wave funding have been released but not the second wave, and capital funding beyond 2019-20 has yet to be confirmed.

Redirecting funding, if confirmed, would leave a large hole in the Department of Health’s digital plans, and it’s likely that there will be strenuous efforts to find alternative ways to fund or part-fund the programme.

Speaking on Twitter Simon Eccles, national CCIO and deputy chief executive of NHsX said the NHS’s commitment to the LHCRE programme “hasn’t changed” and there is “no suggestion the AI lab is funded at the expense of LHCREs”.

As recently as 24 June Matthew Gould, the new CEO of NHSX, suggested the LHCRE projects would continue. There was an expectation that a third round of LHCRE projects would be announced.

There are, however, also suggestions that NHSX may have been working on a developing an alternative plan to rolling out  and extending shared records.

NHS organisations are currently being asked by NHSX to detail their plans to digitise the service.

A raid of funds for LHCREs also raises questions over the future of the much larger Global Digital Exemplar (GDE) programme, where funding is also awarded to annual tranches, but promised funding for new GDEs and fast followers is unclear.

In September 2018, Matt Hancock pledged £200m to create new acute, mental health and ambulance trusts GDEs, as well as the first community GDEs.

It’s also unknown whether the £37.5m pledged in 2018 for new health and biomedical data hubs will be affected.

When contacted by Digital Health News an NHSX spokesperson affirmed targets in the Long Term Plan for five initial geographies to deliver longitudinal health and care records by 2020, with three more to follow in 2021, extending to national converge by 2024.

They added “no funding has been re-directed from this programme”.

NHS England has been contacted for comment.

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