Department of Health announces digital services funding

The ‘Information Sharing Challenge Fund’ will give NHS organisations up to £99,000 for new digital services

The Department of Health (DoH) today announced new funding to encourage new digital services for sharing data within the NHS.

The Information Sharing Challenge Fund will enable NHS organisations to bid for up to £99,000 to put their ideas into practice, if they can prove the systems would equal value for money. They would also need to show that they could be rolled out across other healthcare centres and fit with the Department of Health’s commitment to the NHS Interoperability Toolkit (ITK) – the framework for sharing IT systems between trusts.

The system should include ways of sharing data not just between doctors, nurses and other NHS staff, but also include the patient, enabling them to get involved with decisions regarding their own care.

“We want to support doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals to be innovative in the NHS,” said Health Minister Lord Howe.  “That is why we have created this fund to encourage NHS organisations to come up with new digital ideas that not only improve services for patients but help create an environment where local IT information can be more easily shared across the NHS.”

Although the Department of Health has put forward the figure of up to £99,000, a letter from the NHS commissioning board authority said few bids would break the £75,000 mark, with most falling below £50,000.

The fund has received the backing of Intellect, the UK’s industry trade organisation for the technology industry.

Paul Cooper, a health and social care council member for the group, said: “It is often the case that many innovative ideas come from trusts working closely with their suppliers.  This initiative will not only enable trusts across the NHS to come forward with great ideas about harnessing digital technology, but also provide some funds to help turn them into a reality.”

However, it was the stipulation that any system must be usable by another organisation that particularly won praise, even if it hadn’t gone far enough for Intellect.  

“There needs to be greater education and awareness of the benefits of interoperability by trusts and other health and social care providers, and this campaign is a good start,” said Cooper.  “But there is more that [the DoH], the NHS Commissioning Board and industry needs to do to join up local IT systems and ensure that there is effective information sharing across the NHS as a whole.”

“The ‘challenge fund’ with its limited 'prize money' is a start but may not be enough to tip the scale in favour of the NHS Interoperability Toolkit (ITK) becoming the default model for the NHS and industry.”

Ailsa Claire, transition director for patients and intelligence at the NHS commissioning board authority, cited the recent NHS Information Strategy, which called for a “connect all” approach to IT systems and said this fund paved the way for even more sharing between trusts.

“The public rightly expects the NHS, social care and other organisations to work together,” she said. “Encouraging local innovation in this way will allow for better integrated care and allow patients to access their information so they can make decisions based on what they need.”

The bidding process is open from today, but submissions must be made by 5 October, 2012.

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