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NHS open-source Spine 2 platform to go live next week

Caroline Baldwin

A new iteration of the NHS platform that connects clinicians, patients and national applications is due to be completed this coming weekend.

Considered by the government to be critical national infrastructure, the Spine platform is a communications hub that connects key IT services developed as part of the troubled NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT). The services include electronic prescriptions and GP2GP, which enables patients’ electronic health records to be transferred directly and securely between GP practices. On a typical day, 275,000 people connect to Spine.

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The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) has teamed up with IT consultancy BJSS to develop Spine 2 using the Riak open-source database. 

Andrew Meyer, programme head for Spine 2 at the HSCIC, said the team has transitioned all the data across and the service will be ready to go live over the bank holiday weekend.

“There has been lots of preparation,” said Meyer. “We’ve got to a point where we have a 10-minute place, so every 10 minutes we know exactly where we should be and what we’re doing during the switchover.

“A key priority is to ensure there is little impact on the NHS and the service because this is fundamental to the NHS and the way it operates. We are very aware we have to make the transition as painless as possible for the NHS and we have worked really hard to do that.”

The NHS has been rebuilding its Spine platform over the last 18-24 months using open-source software.

Last year, the NHS said open source would be a key feature of the new approach to healthcare IT. It hopes embracing open source will both cut the upfront costs of implementing new IT systems and take advantage of using the best brains from different areas of healthcare to develop collaborative solutions.

Meyer said the Spine switchover team has “picked up the gauntlet around open-source software”.

The HSCIC and BJSS have collaborated to build the core services of Spine 2, such as electronic prescriptions and care records, “in a series of iterative developments”.

They have developed options to replace the user-interfacing systems that access care records and demographics services, while ensuring existing external interfaces remain unchanged to ensure there is no adverse impact on current connected systems.

The team followed principles set out by the government, using an agile approach to develop the new system in a short timescale.


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