New NHS e-Referral Service to use agile and open technologies

NHS IT

New NHS e-Referral Service to use agile and open technologies

Caroline Baldwin

The new National Health Service outpatient appointment booking system will use agile and open technologies, the NHS said.

The e-Referral Service is due to replace the Choose and Book system later this year.

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The NHS is scrapping the £356m Choose and Book system despite it being regarded as of the few successes of the failed £12.7bn National Programme for IT (NPfIT).

The system was introduced in 2004 to enable patients needing an outpatient appointment to select, with their GP, a hospital appointment at a convenient date and time

Beverley Bryant, director of strategic systems and technology for NHS England, said the new system would build on the success of Choose and Book.

“The NHS e-Referral Service will harness some of the new technologies used by the most successful IT companies in the world and, using the latest agile development techniques, will deliver a service designed and assured by the users, that patients want and that the NHS needs to deliver modern and efficient healthcare.”

IT procurement

Atos Healthcare currently runs the Choose and Book contract, which is due to run until December 2014.

The NHS told Computer Weekly that a number of contracts have already been let for the new e-Referral service, including the initial development software which was procured over the G-Cloud framework and won by BJSS in July 2013.

Another contract to replace the NHS Appointment Line service was signed to Conduit in March 2014 and tendered over the Department of Health Managed Contact Centre Services Framework, and InTechnology have also been contracted for the e-Referral service Infrastructure-as-a-Service contract, which was also procured over G-Cloud and signed in March 2014. 

The NHS said that "further tenders for future development and support will be issued in 2014 and beyond."

Bryant said 40 million bookings had been made during Choose and Book’s 10-year history, which equates to 40,000 patient referrals every day.

In a statement, Bryant admitted the NHS was aware Choose and Book had been hit and miss for some practitioners.

“We know Choose and Book has worked for some and not for others and a combination of electronic and paper referrals is still being used in some areas,” she said. “With the new NHS e-Referrals Service, we want to build on the successes of Choose and Book and use the lessons learnt. This isn’t about reinventing the wheel, it is about taking the next step.”

Bryant said NHS England must understand what referring clinicians and organisations want from the new system.

“Managing a mixed economy of paper and electronic referrals is onerous for hospitals and the lack of total slot availability makes it difficult for referring GPs to move away from paper,” she said.

Bryant hopes to adopt the latest agile and open technologies to build the e-Referral Service and drive up utilisation.

“We want a system that is quick, easy and beneficial for healthcare professionals to use and ultimately improves patient experience by providing flexibility and choice around the services we offer wherever the patient is,” she added.

This story has been updated on 13th May 2014 to include details on IT procurement contracts


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