Northern Ireland has signed a £275m deal with US firm Epic to supply electronic patient records across the country.

The landmark 10-year deal aims to underpin modernisation of health and care services across Northern Ireland. It will also see the country become one of the first parts of the UK to get fully integrated electronic health and social care record systems, replacing a patchwork of ageing legacy systems.

The £275m contract was awarded by Health and Social Care Northern Ireland (HSCNI) under a programme called ‘encompass’ and covers acute, mental health and social care services in the province.  Primary care systems are not covered by the deal.

Epic will supply integrated electronic records to the five Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland plus the ambulance trust, that deliver both health and care services, and serve a population of 1.9million.

The US supplier is the prime contractor for clinical software. A separate deal on infrastructure is expected to be awarded by HSCNI.

The long-anticipated encompass deal has been four-years in the making and is the second major UK contract win for Epic in the past fortnight. In May 2020, Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust signed a £181m 15-year contract with the supplier. 

Northern Ireland health minister, Robin Swann, said the contract would be key to digital transformation of the health service.

“Digital transformation will have a vital role in the rebuilding of health and social care in the wake of the first Covid-19 wave,” he said.

HSCNI said the encompass programme involves the creation of a single digital care record for every citizen, bringing important benefits for both the public and staff. It forms part of a planned £275m ICT investment over 10 years that will create 200 additional jobs. Over 12000 staff from the HSC Trusts have been brought in to ensure that there is front line representation in the implementation.

The South Eastern Trust will be the first Trust to ‘Go Live’, in 2022, with all Trusts anticipated to be using the encompass solution by the end of 2024 across hospital, community and social care services.

Dr Michael Quinn, head of clinical informatics at HSCBNI and former clinical lead of the Encompass programme, told Digital Health News: “This is a wonderful clinical patient safety initiative, a real gamechanger for us with the addition of live prescribing for all sites.”

“We are joining up the entire clinical record.  People can just see the sense.  This is just the right step and the right thing to do.”

Northern Ireland already had a shared record viewing ability but now all clinicians are able to work from the same records. Almost 300 clinicians were involved in the selection process.

Dr Quinn said: “In regards to the money, £275m is a lot but its spread over a decade and it’s less than 1% of overall budget in NI health and care. It’s a transformational investment that will underpin of health and care in NI for the next decade.”

Encompass will link in with work on waiting times; actions around Mental Health; reconfiguration of hospital services; the development of day case elective centres; delivery of transformed cancer services; and support community engagement and co-design.

Swann said: “We are calling time on the current situation of multiple, ageing digital systems and a large reliance on the paper record. This investment will improve outcomes for our patients and service users by making it easier for our HSC professionals to deliver sustainable, high quality care, improved efficiencies and greater collaboration across all care settings.”

The Health Minister added that while response to Covid-19 remained the priority it was vital to proceed with the Encompass programme, “it would be a disservice to the NI population and those working so hard in the HSC to stall on this opportunity”.

Swann concluded: “There will of course be challenges in planning such a major digital transformation in the face of ongoing uncertainty, but I am reassured that the encompass team and Epic will continue to be working hard in the background so that when we emerge from COVID, we are best placed to build on the experiences of frontline staff, patients and the public to deliver services that are more digitally transformed, virtualised and sustainable into the future.”