The NHS national programme for IT has agreed a new multimillion-pound deal with Microsoft for software licences, although government auditors have highlighted that the NHS has problems accounting for the licences it uses.
The NHS has a three-year agreement with Microsoft that ends next month. A national programme spokesman said the organisation "can confirm it has reached an agreement with Microsoft for the provision of desktop licences, which is subject to Treasury approval."
Last November, the Audit Commission slammed the IT asset management of the NHS Information Authority, which was responsible for providing IT support to the NHS.
In a report, the Audit Commission said, "The NHSIA made payments of more than £45m in relation to the second year of the Microsoft contract. Although invoices were available from the resellers for the full amount, we were concerned the authority was unable to demonstrate that the NHS had got 400,000 licences."
The commission said the NHSIA had no way of knowing exactly how many NHS PCs were using Microsoft software. It advised a tracking database and regular surveys, but admitted the figures could be no better than "within 10%" accuracy.
The NHSIA, which is to be rolled into a new agency, said, "Remedial action was taken to the satisfaction of our auditors. Results from surveys carried out to cross-check the tracking database have been made available to the national plan."
Sun wins open source agreement
The NHS last week signed an agreement with Sun for 5,000 desktop licences for its Java Desktop System (JDS).
The deal covers less than 1% of the NHS' desktops, but Duncan McNeil, national programme chief technology officer, said, "The national programme continues to view the use of open source software and open systems architecture as a key way of achieving best value and systems interoperability into the future."
A spokesman said JDS represented a "viable desktop alternative for certain types of user communities" within the NHS, and said the 5,000 licences will be used for "tactical deployments".
Trust IT directors warn of risks
IT directors in trusts across England are recommending their boards approve business cases for implementing new national systems locally, but are also warning of risks of failure or uncertainties.
Stuart Threlfall, director of IT and service modernisation for King's Lynn and Wishbech Hospitals NHS trust, referred in a board paper dates 26 July to a "significant and unacceptable gap in funding". He said the gap between the available funds and the expected cost of the systems has been reduced, but that there was still a gap.
A spokesman said it was not always possible to provide answers to very specific questions. "However, there will be greater clarity as the NPfIT develops and as local plans are taken to a lower level of detail."