Health secretary Andrew Lansley has pledged to open up the NHS IT market to a wider range of suppliers, and said that he wants to put private providers under the same data reporting obligations as public organisations.

Speaking at the HC2011 Health Informatics Congress in Birmingham yesterday, the secretary of state stressed that better use of data was central to driving up care standards, and making the NHS more accountable.

He told the conference: “Just as we want to bring openness to the NHS, we also need to bring openness to the way we do IT in the health service.”

In an apparent attack on the National Programme for IT, the secretary of state said: “The old way of centrally-planned, fiendishly complicated billion-pound contracts, with a small number of providers did not work. One size does not fit all.

Instead, he said he wanted to see a more diverse market for IT suppliers to the NHS. Mr Lansley told delegates: “So in the same way we want to open the healthcare market up to any qualified provider… equally we want to open the IT market to any provider, large or small, who can help deliver better care for NHS patients.”

The health secretary also said he wanted all healthcare providers to be subject to the same data reporting standards.

“In the past there were private providers offering services in the NHS who were not subject to the same criteria.

“When we talk about a level playing field, we need a level playing field, in terms of quality of service… we want private providers to be under the same obligations in relation to education and training, and in accounting for quality, and the requirements in terms of meeting the specifications of commissioners should apply to private providers in the same way. No special advantages – the same obligations.”

Mr Lansley held up cardiothoracic surgery as an example of how better data reporting can lead to stronger performance. He also acknowledged that with more detailed information available “there is potential for people to overreact.”

But, he said, “it is the only way to more forward”, adding, “I believe the NHS has hidden its light under a bushel”.