Supplier delays hit NHS trusts

NHS trusts anxious to replace ageing patient administration systems with standardised products under the national programme for...

NHS trusts anxious to replace ageing patient administration systems with standardised products under the national programme for IT (NPfIT) have said national suppliers are running into delays.

Patient administration systems are critical to the running of hospitals and are a stepping stone to implementing the NHS Care Records Service, which includes electronic patient records.

But senior IT executives in NHS trusts are expressing concern to their boards about delays to replacement systems involving some of the NPfIT's local service providers.

Some trusts face having to change planned implementations, install interim systems, or pay for costly extensions to legacy contracts.

A few trusts welcome the delays because it allows more time for systems to be enhanced and tested. But hold-ups may make it more difficult to convince sceptical clinicians and IT executives that the programme is going according to plan.

Before the advent of the NPfIT, patient administration systems would have been replaced under local and regional competitive tenders. But Whitehall officials want trusts to wait for products from local service providers, most of which were appointed centrally in 2003.

In North Yorkshire, the Friarage Hospital is so anxious to replace its unreliable patient administration system that it will shortly install an interim product even though this may be needed for only a few months.

In a separate report, the Warrington-based Board of 5 Boroughs NHS Partnership Trust said its planned go-live date for a patient administration system was 26 March. But the trust said it was told on 13 January by its local service provider that it would be unable to deliver a finished product for that date.

"The majority of implementations in the Strategic Health Authority are to be deferred," said the trust's report.

Although it has made good progress in implementing the NPfIT's systems, the trust said, "At present the trust faces a major disruption of the National Care Records Service programme due to the failure of the local service provider to deliver their reference solution in the cluster to an acceptable standard and on time."

However, the local service provider insisted that the original planning assumption was to go live at 5 Boroughs Trust in May 2005 and instead has agreed to go live in April with about 180 users at two sites, Warrington and Halton.

Delays are hitting early implementations of picture archiving and communications (Pacs) systems, which store and distribute x-rays electronically.

On 26 January, West Midlands South Strategic Health Authority said a number of significant issues are delaying implementation of Pacs systems under the cluster Pacs contract, including uncertainties over funding.

It added, "Many NHS organisations will find it difficult to commit to proceed without additional funding."

South Warwickshire General Hospitals NHS Trust said last month that delays affecting patient administration and Pacs systems may "materially alter" its implementation plan and funding streams for 2005/06 and 2006/07.

A spokesman for the NPfIT said, "We have always said it would take time to undertake the deployment planning for NPfIT. But we have now published high-level deployment plans across the NHS. We believe this demonstrates openness and transparency. We are now looking forward to undertaking the implementation and deployments, many of which are planned for this year."

The spokesman said the NPfIT was "aware of the funding issues around Pacs" and it was "accepted that it is causing some delay to Pacs deployment". He added that guidance would be issued shortly. In general, NPfIT officials believe the programme is going according to plan.

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