NHS Scotland is looking to replace its legacy mainframe systems with more modern alternatives, offering successful tenders the opportunity for a contract worth £8m to £32m over 10 years.
The health service said in a public contract tender that its current mainframe systems, some of which are 25 years old, are becoming too expensive to maintain and are not effective at supporting a modern health service dependent on "fast electronic communications and ‘paper-light' ways of working".
Companies from across the European Union have been invited to pitch for the Mainframe Solutions Transformation Programme contract.
Suppliers will need to offer technology that can replace many of the key systems used in the Scottish health service, the idea being that such technology could be extended for wider public sector use.
"[NHS Scotland] requires reliable, secure, flexible solutions that will support the NHS in Scotland in delivering the highest standards of healthcare to the people of Scotland in a cost effective and efficient manner," the contract notice stated.
The health service is interested in exploring hosting and a potential service model as an alternative to setting up and maintaining on-site IT systems.
NHS Scotland splits the tender into two 'lots'. The first is to secure news systems for its Community Health Index, which is effectively a population healthcare register.
The second will support the Scottish Child Public Health and Wellbeing System, which helps to organise immunisation across the country. Bidders can apply for one or both of the lots.
The tender is simply looking for suppliers of mainframe alternatives, as the implementation of any new systems will be carried out by a separate partner which the health service will procure at a later date.
"This procurement will be conducted once the solutions are sufficiently established to enable the role of the implementation partner to be scoped," noted the tender.
As a result, any awarded contracts will be conditional on the appointment of an implementation partner suitable for the work outlined in one of the applicable lots.
Furthermore, bidders will need to meet the fairly rigorous demands outlined in the contract, including prioritising data security and compliance with NHS data protection legislation.
"Solutions should be agile and flexible to meet developments in healthcare provision," the tender said.
"Solutions must be capable of cost-effective development and enhancement throughout the contract term to meet the challenges facing NHS Scotland.
"These solutions will be crucial to the operation of the NHS in Scotland and must be fully supported with guaranteed availability round the clock, every day of the year."
As part of a huge health service, NHS trusts across the UK are often full of legacy systems and software that become increasingly expensive to maintain but awkward to upgrade over time.
It is not surprising to see branches of the healthcare service completely overhaul their IT systems.
IBM is working with the NHS to bring its electronic staff record system up to date with mobile access and self-service capabilities to 1.4 million healthcare staff.
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