Health trust threatens to leave NHS IT program

The Royal Berkshire NHS Trust is considering leaving the UK$12.4 billion National Programme for IT to choose its own patient record systems.

Chairman Colin MacLean said the trust was examining the option of leaving the program, in the wake of the “worrying” development that southern region contractor Fujitsu was leaving the project.

The announcement could raise concerns that other trusts will follow suit. Last week, prominent IT industry figures urged the government to reconsider urgently whether its plan for a central database of patient records was viable.

In a statement to Computerworld UK, Professor Ann Sheen, chief executive at Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, would not confirm if a decision to go it alone had been made.

But she said: “We have as a Trust considered contingency plans, as we would for any other major project.

“We are working together with NHS Connecting for Health to take our plans forward.”

Trust chairman Colin MacLean told a meeting of the organizations governors the day after Fujitsu left the program, about his concerns, according to reports in local newspaper the Reading Evening Post.

“If we want to be a forward-looking trust we need a decent IT system. We have been waiting for this to happen for a while and so the board has already been looking at the options in case we needed to go somewhere else,” he was reported as saying.

“Plan A was to try to work with the national program, Plan B was to start propping up our own IT systems and to continue working with the national program, and just over six months ago we were made aware that we needed to start thinking about a Plan C to go out on our own.

“The board has not made a decision to walk yet but it might make such a decision quite soon, maybe at our next meeting.”

The NHS declined to comment on the situation, beyond last week’s statement that “work has started immediately” on plans to replace all of Fujitsu’s work. It promised there would be a “smooth transition” to new suppliers, which are as yet undecided.

The NHS spine experienced problems at the weekend as supplier BT made a crucial upgrade.

Several trusts were forced to close off their connection to the service after the upgrade resulted in glitches making the system a challenge to use. The spine is the central source of data for the care records systems.

A Connecting for Health spokesperson said: “The new system was put into live operation following the successful completion of extensive testing. In the course of this testing period, a small number of sites experienced problems, all of which were resolved over the weekend.”

The spokesperson said the problems “did not impact on clinical safety.” BT confirmed the problem was resolved.

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