NHS England has confirmed that its £300 million digital pathways framework has been cancelled, following delays caused by a legal claim.

The framework was aimed at driving a rapid move to a modern general practice model by connecting integrated care boards (ICBs) with approved suppliers for digital GP tools for messaging, consultations and care navigation.

A contract notice was published by NHSE in October 2023 to establish a framework agreement for the provision of digital pathways solutions and associated capabilities for primary care IT.

According to NHSE, the framework was intended to support the modern general practice model, outlined in the ‘Delivery plan for recovering access to primary care’, by “providing standardised, assured, interoperable digital systems for primary care settings”.

However, in February 2024, NHSE told suppliers that the procurement had been automatically suspended following a legal claim, causing delays to the necessary approvals and contract awards.

In a notice to suppliers in June 2024, seen by Digital Health News, NHSE said: “the procurement process will not continue” and “no framework agreements will be offered as a result of the procurement process”.

It added: “Due to delays brought about as a result of various factors (including the suspension caused by the on-going litigation and the restrictions related to the upcoming general election), NHS England considers that it will not realistically be able to conclude the framework agreements in July 2024 and therefore there will not be sufficient time for digital pathways solutions to be implemented this year”.

An NHS England spokesperson told Digital Health News: “Thanks to the NHS plan for recovering access to primary care, more GP surgeries have the latest tech to make access easier for patients.

“Although a framework is not now how we are taking this work forward, practices can still secure the higher quality digital solutions they need with the help of ICBs, using the additional investment provided by the plan.”

They added that the current arrangements with ICBs will continue to enable general practices to use available in-year funding through the ‘Delivery plan for recovering access to primary care’, which was originally published in May 2023.

In April 2024, NHSE announced funding of £48m for integrated care boards (ICBs), as a result of delays to the digital pathways framework.

In the ‘Digital pathways tools guidance and next steps for 2024/ 2025′, published on 25 April 2024, NHSE said that the funding was for “capabilities relating to digital pathways and demand and capacity tools”.

The guidance said that “the national support offer is being enhanced” owing to the digital pathways framework delay.

“This will enable ICBs to take advantage of the available funding to support uplifted digital tools in line with the Modern General Practice model (MGP) throughout 2024/25,” it added.

Further options for suppliers of digital pathways products will be confirmed “in due course”, an NHSE spokesperson said.