NHS IT list reveals scale of challenge

NHS IT chief Richard Granger has selected 31 companies to bid in the next stage of the health service's £2.3bn IT upgrade, in a...

NHS IT chief Richard Granger has selected 31 companies to bid in the next stage of the health service's £2.3bn IT upgrade, in a strategy which, according to industry experts, is high risk and lacking in the usual controls.

Granger has selected a "long list" of 27 IT organisations to be considered as one of five local service providers for England. A further 20 potential candidates will be considered as national application service providers (NASP).

The successful candidates will run all NHS IT and provide electronic patient records, e-prescribing, electronic appointment booking and basic infrastructure, the key IT elements of the NHS modernisation programme.

Granger's office has been working hard behind the scenes to encourage the establishment of consortia and the long list includes 11 supplier groupings.

Granger said the expression of interest "provides confidence that at the end of the competition the successful bidders will be capable of meeting the stringent quality and competency requirements of this programme".

However, Allan Watton, managing director, of the Best Practice Group consultancy, warned that the level of uncertainty surrounding the programme meant the NHS was effectively asking suppliers to scope its projects for free.

"This is a high-risk strategy, as is doing away with the preferred supplier status," said Watton. "Organisations that pay for a scoping exercise get considerably more contractual protection and control. [They] have more chance of getting what [they] need rather than what the supplier thinks [they] should have."

Anthony Miller, research manager at analyst group Ovum Holway, said the NHS was trying to select consortia that had been "flung together at short notice".

A sign of the complexity of the task ahead is the appearance of some suppliers in more than one consortium, for example Schlumberger-Sema, Serco, iSoft and PWC.

Others include bitter rivals, such as Sun and Microsoft. Other suppliers, such as Accenture, have been listed as standalone bidders, while also being part of consortia.

"The process is going to require incredible co-operation and goodwill between suppliers, who are arch-rivals, on very short lead times and project deadlines," Miller said.

Granger defended his procurement strategy at last month's Healthcare Computing conference in Harrogate. He said that doing away with the preferred supplier stage would speed up the project and prevent suppliers from adding qualifications and riders to their original bid.

Excluded suppliers can become sub-contractors to local service providers and national application service providers, according to Granger.

Mega-consortia bidding for NHS IT

Accenture, Siemens, Microsoft and Avanade partnership.

Cerner, SchlumbergerSema, Serco, TATA consortium

EDS, iSOFT, Microsoft, Dell, SUN consortium

Fujitsu Services, PricewaterhouseCoopers, TATA consortium

IBM, ATOS KPMG consortium

Lockheed Martin, Hewlett Packard, Perot Systems consortium

McKesson, Capita Business Services consortium

Jarvis, SAIC, Agilisys, PricewaterhouseCoopers consortium

Patni Computer Systems, First Consulting Group, Patient Safety Institute, Seebeyond, iSOFT consortium

SchlumbergerSema, Fujitsu Services, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young consortium

Serco, Morse Group, Sapient consortium

Other organisations on the long list include BT, CSC, Compuware, CTG, Northrop Grumman, Oracle, IMS Health, ITNET, Logica CMG, Steria, Torex, Unisys, Wipro Technologies and Xansa.

Read more on IT for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME)