NHS England has signed an £8m one month extension on the NHS Microsoft licensing deal that includes Office 365 and ubiquitous Teams video conferencing application.

First reported by PublicTechnology.net and confirmed to Digital Health News by NHS England the ultra-short term extension suggests that negotiations for a new national deal are underway but yet to be concluded.

Two large contracts with Microsoft resellers were due to come to conclude at the end of April. The largest a £163m five-year deal with Bytes for the delivery and support of about one million Windows 10 licences.

The second a £52m agreement signed with Insight in 2020, which covers Microsoft 365 systems.

The current NHS Microsoft 365 deal, struck between NHSX, NHS Digital and Microsoft, in June 2020 covered all elements of Office365, including Teams, use of which exploded during the pandemic after initially being provided for free to the NHS.

The three-year Microsoft 365 deal was set to expire at the end of April 2023.

The national Microsoft deal was said to improve productivity, enhance collaboration and strengthen cyber security across healthcare services.

The expensive delay may be down to complex negotiations on licensing taking longer than expected, or Microsoft playing hardball on price.

But another more speculative explanation relates to NHS England’s stated ambitions around ambient national language processing, which could potentially be linked to a new national Microsoft deal.

Microsoft has been the market leader in health NLP, now under-pinned with ChatGPT AI technology, since it completed its $20 billion acquisition of Nuance, in 2022.

At Rewired 2023 back in March Dr Tim Ferris, director of digital transformation NHSE, in his keynote Q&A said the widespread introduction of ambient voice to medical note creation NLP had the potential to be transformational to NHS productivity, and at a stroke address some of the major UX problems and frustrations with today’s electronic patient records.

Though not yet launched outside the US, and certainly not mentioned by Dr Ferris, the product that would appear to most obviously address this aspiration is a version of Nuance’s Dragon DAX Express AI NLP product.