The NHS is to increase spending with small and medium sized IT businesses (SMBs) as it moves to become paperless by 2018 and offer online access to patient health records by 2015.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt unveiled the new NHS IT strategy in January this year, while outlining how improvements in IT will save the taxpayer £4bn while reducing hassle for patients and staff.
However, the Department of Health has yet to publicly reveal its budget for the strategy, which is now in the hands of the NHS Commissioning Board to implement.
Now, in an exclusive interview the woman leading much of this work, Beverley Bryant, director of strategic systems and technology for the NHS Commissioning Board, has given V3 an insight into her strategy for this work.
"I'm currently consulting with clinicians and the private sector. I'm talking to all healthcare suppliers and SMBs. We are particularly trying to take this to SMBs. We have to satisfy them because of the government's new procurement rules," she told V3.
Bryant was referring to rules introduced by the government in 2011 that aim to ensure a quarter of central departmental procurement spend goes to [SMBs] by the end of this parliament in 2015.
Such rules have the potential to cause a large amount of disruption in the health market, which has generally tended to award contracts to the large, traditional IT suppliers.
Bryant said she could not comment on particular suppliers she had been speaking to, or what she had in mind for the NHS infrastructure, as she said it is still very much in planning stages. She said more details on how she intends to implement the digital strategy will follow in June.
However, Bryant said generally she intends IT decisions to be made at a local level by NHS Trusts.
"In June I will be clearer on this, but I intend [local NHS Trusts] to meet with the private sector and tell us how they intend to be digital. I'll lay out the standards on how they should implement [the digital strategy], which will ensure that all the [IT systems] connect with each other," said Bryant.
Bryant said she wanted to avoid being too prescriptive and instead share examples of good practice and encourage Trusts to adopt it.
"I want to give support, not just instructions, although make it clear it's not alright to do nothing," she said.
"I want to empower clinicians and let them have ownership, while creating flexibility, and doing some things nationally."
Bryant explained she was eager to help lead a new culture in the health sector based on openness and transparency. She said she intended to break with the previous closed nature of health sector developments, and to be open about the direction of the digital strategy from start to finish.
Everything we do needs to add value to patients so we need to be open about that. In general, if we are trying to promote openness of data then surely how we behave needs to reflect that agenda," added Bryant.
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