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NHS must make it easier for suppliers, says NHS Digital deputy CEO

NHS organisations have to become “intelligent” customers to make it less difficult for IT suppliers to deliver to the health service

NHS Digital’s deputy CEO, Rob Shaw, has called on health and care organisations to improve the way they work with suppliers. 

Speaking at EHI Live in Birmingham today, Shaw urged NHS organisations to become “intelligent customers”, saying that the health service has a history of making it difficult for suppliers “to deliver good services because we’ve not really been sure of what we want”. 

At the same conference last year, the then director of digital transformation, Beverley Bryant, called on NHS IT suppliers to make software “more usable”.

This time, Shaw said his plea to suppliers was to help the NHS to become easier to sell services and software to, but he also called on suppliers to get on board with interoperability standards. 

“We have got to make it easier for suppliers to sell into health and social care,” he said. 

Currently, suppliers have to try to sell their products “almost organisation by organisation”, said Shaw, and if it is small company trying to break into the NHS market, “they can’t afford to do that on a regular basis”. 

“What we want to be able to do is get a plug-and-play,” he said, meaning that if something works for one organisation, it can work for others and it should be easy to use in another organisation.

Shaw urged NHS organisations that are in the same “patch” for sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) – which outline how local areas aim to transform the delivery of health and social care – to buy together and make it so that “we are actually buying in bulk purchases”, which could also drive the price down.

“The NHS doesn’t have endless money to burn,” he said. “And what we spend on we have to make sure we actually deliver real good outcomes, which means we have to work together and be a little more intelligent about that spend.”

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.

Last month, the director of NHS Digital’s digital collaboration service, Cleveland Henry, called on the entire health and care service to drive the use of technology locally.  

“We need to drive the use of technologies across the system,” he said. “In some areas, we have had good coverage, but we also have challenges.” 

Earlier this year, NHS Digital launched a strategic partnership with trade body TechUK to help transform the way suppliers engage with NHS Digital.    

At the time, Beverley Bryant, who has since gone to work for a supplier herself, said the partnership aimed to ensure “industry can begin to gear up for all the potential opportunities and inform our strategy, and we’re going to continue to work closely with suppliers”.

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