NHS England’s target for all trusts to have an electronic patient record (EPR) by March 2025 has been declared “unachievable” in the annual report from the government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA).

The frontline digitisation programme was launched by NHSE and the government in 2021 with the goal of helping all trusts reach a minimum level of capability. It aimed to have 90% of all trusts have an EPR of an acceptable standard by the end of 2023, and 100% by March 2025.

In February 2022 then-secretary of state for health and social care, Sajid Javid, called for the acceleration of the EPR rollout, to help hit 90% coverage by December 2023.

However, a few months later, in June 2022 it was revealed only 20% of all trusts (43) had an EPR in place that met NHSE’s required standards. A further 138 trusts had an EPR which required an extension or optimisation, while 30 trusts didn’t have any EPR in place.

Project downgraded

The report published this month states: “Delivery confidence is [rated] red as a number of NHS trusts are reporting they are unlikely to be able to fully implement an electronic patient record by March 2025.”

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) is a government body responsible for scrutinising and supporting major projects. According to the IPA’s own definitions, the downgrading to a red rating indicates the project “may need rescoping and/or its overall viability reassessed”.

The report also reveals that the budget for the programme was cut by £700m at the beginning of last year, with the original £2.6bn budget being slashed to £1.9bn. This was “to support other NHS England priorities”, according to the report.

A new deadline for the programme has now been revised for March 2026, although NHSE says it is on target to reach 95% of trusts with an EPR by March 2025. The report clearly notes that no additional budget will be made available to cover the extension of the programme.

“The NHS is investing £1.9bn to ensure hospitals have the right digital foundations in place to share information so health and care staff can provide better and safer care to patients,” said an NHSE spokesperson. “Electronic Patient Record procurements are large and complex investments for local organisations and we are on track to meet the target of 95 per cent live by March 2025.”

The frontline digitisation programme was not the only project to be downgraded to a red rating. The GP IT futures framework programme, designed for improving and purchasing primary care IT, was also moved to red. This programme ended in March, after failing for three years to encourage new market entrants to the GP electronic market.