Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What do we deliver?
As the Informatics Directorate of the Department of Health, we deliver a range of national services and applications. Each of these services help the NHS in England manage day-to-day operations by increasing access to patient and management information through information technology and improving the quality of patient care.
Our role is to maintain and develop these national services and applications, including: Spine; N3; NHSmail; Choose and Book; Electronic Prescription Service; Secondary Uses Service; Summary Care Records; GP2GP; Personal Demographics Service and the Quality Management and Analysis System.
In the past, we did this using a centralised, national approach, and 13 of the 40+ services we deliver made up the National Programme for IT, created in 2002 under the last government.
Consequently, in line with broader NHS reform, the National Programme for IT is being dismantled to localise decision-making and responsibility for NHS information technology.
Our approach to implementation will allow for a more locally-led plural system of procurement to operate, whilst continuing with national applications already procured. NHS services will be the customers of a more plural system of IT, aspiring to 'connect all', rather than 'replace all' systems.
We continue to work with our existing suppliers to determine the best way to deliver services upon which the NHS depends, in a way which allows the local NHS to exercise choice while delivering best value for money.
We also deliver a range of professional software development, support and hosting resources for delivering and maintaining operational and business critical NHS systems and services, including Primary Care Patient Registration, GP Payments, National Cancer Screening services and a portfolio of approximately 40 national NHS-facing services.
What are the NHS's priorities for adoption of our systems and services in 2012-13?
The Operating Framework for the NHS in England 2012-13 sets out the business and planning arrangements for the NHS. Included in the framework were the following instructions:
- "Patients should have access to Choose and Book for planned treatments and commissioners should take all reasonable steps to offer the patient a quicker appointment at a range of alternative providers, if the patient makes such a request."
- "Providers' obligations are set out in standard contract guidance to accept patients who are referred to a clinically-appropriate named consultant-led team and list their services on Choose and Book in a way that allows users to book appointments with named consultant-led teams."
- "Patients who have been written to about the Summary Care Record should have a record created by March 2013 at the latest."
- "No single technical change has greater power to improve the integration of services than the consistent use of the NHS Number. NHS organisations are expected to use the NHS Number consistently in 2012/13 and commissioners should link the use of the NHS Number to contractual payments in line with the guidance. There will be punitive contract sanctions for any organisation not compliant by 31 March 2013."
How are we supporting the NHS in becoming an informed customer for information technology?
Steps are being taken to support the NHS as an informed customer for IT, in the drive to ensure local decisions maximise value for money for patients.
Commissioners across the NHS and all care providers will now have free access to information on systems installed across the NHS and IT suppliers.
This includes detailed insight on the available options and applicable standards. One of the key functions will be the opportunity for users to provide open feedback on suppliers and systems.
This initiative has been launched jointly between the Informatics Directorate and e-Health Insider (EHI). EHI Intelligence reports will now include:
- details of key clinical and administrative systems used within all trusts and primary care trusts (PCTs)
- details of system conformance against NHS standards as published by the Information Standards Board
- details of PC, laptop, notebook and smartphone device quantities in use by individual NHS organisations
- a facility to allow users to rate the systems and suppliers that they use.
Raw data about systems in use within the NHS will also be published on this site and the 'Opening up Government' website. This means other information intermediaries can use the data to provide different insights on NHS services as the NHS continues to develop its capacity to exchange and provide information.
The Department of Health is also working with the Government Procurement Service on a pan-government supplier information database (SID4GOV), which will be a useful reference point for those involved in procuring and evaluating system suppliers.
Intellect, the trade organisation for IT suppliers, is actively working with the Informatics Directorate to develop these initiatives.
Why has the NHS National Programme for IT been dismantled?
The government announced an acceleration of the dismantling of the National Programme for IT in September 2011.
The programme was created in 2002 under the last government and the Cabinet Office's Major Projects Authority has concluded that it is not fit to provide the modern IT services that the NHS needs.
In May 2011 the Prime Minister announced in the House of Commons that the MPA would be reviewing the NHS National Programme for IT.
The MPA found that there have been substantial achievements which are now firmly established, such as the Spine, N3 Network, NHSmail, Choose and Book, Secondary Uses Service and Picture Archiving and Communications System.
Their delivery accounts for a significant proportion of the money spent so far and they will continue to provide vital support to the NHS. However, the review reported the National Programme for IT has not and cannot deliver to its original intent.
In a modernised NHS, which puts patients and clinicians in the driving seat for achieving health outcomes amongst the best in the world, it is no longer appropriate for a centralised authority to make decisions on behalf of local organisations.
We will continue to work with our existing suppliers to determine the best way to deliver the services upon which the NHS depends in a way which allows the local NHS to exercise choice while delivering best value for money.
A new partnership with Intellect, the Technology Trade Association, will explore ways to stimulate a marketplace that will no longer exclude small and medium sized companies from participating in significant government healthcare projects.
Read the letter from Sir David Nicholson, NHS Chief Executive, which provides an update on the steps being taken to stop NHS Information Technology being introduced as a centralised programme.