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The NHS consists of over 27,000 individual organisations providing care across the country through primary and secondary care sites, pharmacies, opticians, dentists and education & training establishments all of which contribute to the improved care options available for individual patients. The Spine is part of the critical national infrastructure that supports the delivery of these services and the health care provision in the UK. As such it is part of "those facilities, systems, sites and networks necessary for the functioning of the country and the delivery of the essential services upon which daily life in the UK depends".

The Spine provides the infrastructure that enables increased patient safety, improved quality of healthcare, greater clinical effectiveness and better administrative efficiency. It is used and supported 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is highly resilient. The following outlines some of the achievements to date:

  • It has delivered a national infrastructure service that already supports programmes such as Summary Care Record (SCR), Choose & Book (CAB), Electronic Prescription Service (EPS), GP2GP, Quality Management & Analysis System (QMAS), Secondary Uses Service (SUS) and NHS Number

  • It supports a single NHS Number as a unique identifier within the Personal Demographic Service (PDS), facilitating the safe, efficient and accurate sharing of patient information across organisational and system boundaries within the NHS
  • It provides a national repository of NHS organisations and relationships, and all registered users
  • It provides authentication of staff access in support of information governance principles and auditability of patient care episodes
  • It provides non-clinical reference information for more than 70 million patients. Information is requested and amended more than 2.6 billion times a year
  • It provides the central repository of summary clinical information (the summary care record) that can be shared with NHS staff and services subject to appropriate information governance constraints. This information is essential to ensure continuity of care, to provide patient-centric care, and patient safety by ensuring that clinicians working in urgent and emergency care settings have access to key information about a patient
  • Through SUS, the Spine provides support to management and research. It affects the ability of the NHS to collect, analyse, anonymise and use patient data for research, audit, management, and financial activities (again subject to information governance constraints). It is key to efficiency in finding new treatments, making the NHS run more efficiently, and ensuring services are safe
  • SUS/PbR is mission-critical for the NHS, supporting acute activity and reimbursement information, highlighted in the NHS Operating Framework as the basis for payment for NHS-funded care
  • It has facilitated the decommissioning of NWCS service and closure of the NSTS service.

The future for Spine services

Work has commenced to develop options for what happens when the current Spine contract comes to an end.