INTEROPen is switching to a membership model following NHS Digital’s decision to cease funding the group.

From 2020, INTEROPen, a supplier-led interoperability group tasked with promoting open data standards across healthcare, will begin asking vendors to pay an annual membership fee.

Membership fees will be banded according to the size of the supplier. Care provider organisations – such as NHS trusts, clinical commissioning groups and sustainability and transformation partnerships – standards bodies, arms-length bodies and very small vendor organisations will be granted free membership.

INTEROPen said the new arrangement would give it more freedom to tackle the interoperability priorities of healthcare organisations and address the limitations of being funded through a national organisation.

An email sent to INTEROPen members, seen by Digital Health News, read: “Although we are very grateful for [NHS Digital’s] support in the first years of our network, it has limited, at times, our ability to fully represent the voices and priorities of all our community members, particularly vendors.

“We want to be at the centre of developing and implementing open interoperability standards for the benefit of patients and everyone involved in delivering health and care, and by being financially independent we can be more fearless in pursuit of doing what we believe is right in our drive to achieve our vision, mission and values,” the email read.

“By providing greater support and a clear voice to the needs and concerns of our vendor members, we believe that we will be able to more quickly achieve the adoption of standards across the NHS and social care through vendors including these in their products.

“It will also allow vendors to be more responsive to priorities that are set more locally by, for example, by the LHCRE areas.”

Until now, INTEROPen’s activities have been funded through resources provided by NHS Digital.

Prioritisation exercise

An NHS Digital spokesperson said the withdrawal of funding was not linked to the ongoing Org2 restructure but an unrelated “prioritisation exercise”.

They added that NHS Digital would continue to work closely with INTEROPen to promote interoperability.

“NHS Digital has supported INTEROPen since its inception two years ago, but like all public bodies, we keep our spend under continuous review to ensure best value for taxpayers,” the spokesperson said.

“During a recent prioritisation exercise, it was decided that we could no longer continue to support INTEROPen with funding for specific projects or with other resources. We gave the INTEROPen team a good deal of notice about the change and extended their funding for an additional three months on top of this notice, to give them time to make new arrangements.

“NHS Digital remains a committed participant in the INTEROPen group and looks forward to continuing to contribute as a member. We are publicly committed to open data and to driving forward interoperability and this has also not changed.”

INTEROPen has received funding from benefactors that will allow it to continue its work until the changes take effect.

In a statement, Luke Readman and David Hancock, co-chairs of INTEROpen, said the group was “excited to be moving towards a new model of funding the INTEROPen community.”

They added: “Greater independence from central bodies will place us in a stronger position to solve the interoperability priorities of NHS and social care.

“By keeping as close as possible to international standards, we will be better able to drive innovation while supporting and nurturing new vendors to the health technology market in the UK. Becoming more vendor-led, we will ensure that real-world obstacles to adoption are given due consideration and that solutions, not problems, are the focus of our activities.

“As a community of individuals and organisations who have committed to putting commercial interests aside to accelerate the development of open standards, INTEROPen is grateful to the generous benefactors who have stepped forward at this time of change to support our continuation in providing opportunities for collaboration, education and expertise within a neutral space.”