The Department of Health’s information chief has indicated that the NHS information strategy will stress the need to join up separate IT systems.

Christine Connelly, chief information officer for health, told the HC2011 Health Informatics Congress in Birmingham that the strategy will focus on the uses of information, rather than technology, and place new emphasis on the interoperability toolkit.

The interoperability toolkit, known as the ITK, refers to the development and delivery of a set of technical standards and frameworks for interoperability, covering transactional and analytical services.

Ms Connelly said the DH is expecting a “plurality of systems”, linked by the ITK, which would encourage more IT suppliers to get involved in the healthcare market.

She said: “The direction of travel is to move much more towards the ITK as the way for us to integrate [systems] for the future.

“That way we create a mechanism where more people can join faster.”

Her comments followed a speech to HC2011 by health secretary Andrew Lansley yesterday, in which he said he wanted a more diverse NHS IT market, opened up to many suppliers along the lines of the any qualified provider model for healthcare.

Ms Connelly added that she even wanted to see the spine, which stores the summary care record, to become linked to other IT systems through the interoperability toolkit.

She said: “I’d better not say that in case there are some contractual obligations, but our expectation is that as we progress and refresh our technologies, we would want to take the spine to the ITK. My expectation is that we would see the spine becoming ITK compliant – how we get there, I have no idea.”

Ms Connelly said the DH would respond to consultation on an “information revolution”, which closed in January, “soon”.

She added: “We’re still looking at the responses, but at this stage in the process our expectation is to continue largely in line with the process we laid out in the consultation document.

“Some of the key features you would expect to see in our future world are points like, we need to capture information as close to the point of care as possible – we’ll only drive quality if we capture information there and then.

“We also need much more structured data – if we’re going to draw things together, we’re going to need that structure to exist.”

The NHS will produce more data and put it into the public domain in future, she said, adding that data and technical standards will be set by the NHS Commissioning Board.