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NHS Spine infrastructure transition successful, says HSCIC

Caroline Baldwin

The infrastructure behind the critical NHS Spine platform has been replaced by The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

The nationwide infrastructure – upgraded between 22 and 25 August – connects clinicians, patients and national applications, as well as storing patient information. 

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The Spine core services and messaging were moved to the new infrastructure in phases, enabling the majority of connected services to continue working over the weekend and minimising disruption to the NHS and patients, according to an online statement.

The NHS has been rebuilding its Spine platform over the past 18-24 months using open-source software. The HSCIC teamed up with IT consultancy BJSS to develop Spine 2 using the Riak open-source database. 

In 2013, the NHS said open source would be a key feature of the new approach to healthcare IT. It hopes embracing open source will 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 systems.

The second iteration of the Spine platform will undergo a 45-day period of intensive monitoring to ensure it is performing as expected.

Prior to the transition, Andrew Meyer, programme head for Spine 2 at the HSCIC, said a main priority was minimising any impact on the service because it is fundamental to the NHS and how 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,” he said. 

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.

Using 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. This is to ensure there is no adverse effect 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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