The NHS has brought in US analyst Gartner to research best practices for implementing and controlling its huge IT infrastructure upgrade project.
Gartner will provide the NHS's £5bn National Programme for IT with research and analysis, such as best practice and technology change management, under a £154,000, one-year, renewable contract.
The deal comes nearly two years after the NHS kicked off its project to update hospital systems throughout England. Among its objecives are the creation of a comprehensive electronic patient record system and an electronic appointment and booking system.
Gordon Head of Gartner said that the firm had been providing the NHS with research since the procurement stage of the project and that the deal formalised the relationship.
The NHS has already awarded contracts for e-mail and directory systems, databases, IT infrastructure, software and broadband access. It is now focusing on best practice for implementing technologies, cost savings and technology integration.
"The project is groundbreaking and leading in its entirety," Head said, "but the NHS can still learn something from looking at projects around the world."
The NHS overhaul has been called the largest IT project in the world, costing billions of pounds before completion in 2008. It also has a unique procurement process that sets regional IT providers against one another, allowing them to compete for each other's contracts if targets are missed.
The project's bargain-driving head, Richard Granger, has won praise for his negotiation skills but been criticised for failing to build public support by communicating the potential benefits.
A report released last month by London-based thinktank the Institute for Public Policy Research warned that not enough evaluation had been done to create a body of evidence on the effectiveness of the project.
It is not clear if the deal with Gartner will change how the project is presented to doctors and the public, although Head said that the project was taking clinical adoption "very, very seriously".
The NHS said it had no further plans to employ any other research companies, and that the Gartner analysts would remain employees of the research firm.
Scarlet Pruitt writes for IDG News Service