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Suppliers need to raise their game, says NHS Digital chief

Director of digital transformation Beverley Bryant calls on NHS IT suppliers to make software “more usable”

A paperless NHS will only happen if organisations collaborate with each other and industry to champion innovation in the health sector, says Beverley Bryant, NHS Digital’s director of digital transformation.

Speaking at EHI Live 2016 in Birmingham, Bryant said “having boots on the ground” in the local health economy was key to achieving a paper-free, interoperable health service. She also called on suppliers to “step up on usability”.

“We need suppliers to step up to the challenge and work with NHS Digital and digital leaders to deliver usable healthcare IT,” said Bryant.

She said she was “disappointed” that NHS Digital’s goal to develop open application programming interfaces (APIs) to enable the integration of GP systems and third-party suppliers that provide services such as apps, patient record access and transactional services, had not yet happened.

The project, called GP Connect, is part of a plan to open up the GP Systems of Choice (GPSoC) framework, which funds IT systems for most GP practices in England.

When the GPSoC contract was first signed in 2014, four main suppliers – Emis, TPP, INPS and Microtest – all had to promise to provide interfaces to allow third-party suppliers to integrate with them through a pairing process. 

However, the project is not yet live. Bryant said the new GPSoC contract, due in 2018, would have an increased focus on improving market conditions. This would include giving clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) the skills to be able to say no to suppliers that were not delivering open APIs. 

She also urged suppliers to comply with techUK’s interoperability charter to increase collaboration on technical interoperability standards in health and social care. 

But it’s not just suppliers that need to step up. NHS organisations also have to improve the use of digital systems and the skills to do so.

Global exemplars

Earlier this autumn, health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that 12 acute health trusts, chosen as “global exemplars”, would each receive up to £10m in funding to help them pioneer new approaches to digital services.

Will Smart, NHS Digital’s CIO, said the exemplars were selected based on their ability to create a “really clearly articulated strategic clinical vision for the organisation”.

The exemplar programme will now be expanded to include non-acute NHS organisations.

“Over the next few weeks, we will be coming out for exemplars around mental health, community care, ambulance and specialist trusts,” said Smart. 

Some 44 local health and care economies have had to submit their sustainability and transformation plans (STPs), of which local digital roadmaps form part, to NHS England.

The plans outline how each area aims to transform its delivery of health and social care, and also act as the main route to gain access to central funding. However, Smart said localities needed to “dial back their aspirations” about how much funding would come from the centre. 

Once the STPs had been reviewed, exemplars in local health economies would also be announced, said Smart.

“What I’m looking for in STPs from a technology perspective is a clear, coherent and credible plan to actually address the challenges we face,” he said.

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