The government has raided a £240m NHS technology fund to bolster financial support for hospitals struggling with accident and emergency demand this winter, senior sources have told HSJ.
Senior health service figures said a large amount of the money originally earmarked to help pay for projects such as digital patient records had now been diverted into the £700m winter pressures fund.
One senior NHS IT director told HSJ: “We are being told that at least half of the money is going to be cut and that there is probably going to be nothing by way of an announcement until after the election about which trusts have been successful.”
Another well placed figure in NHS IT said: “It is the uncertainty as much as the cut which is causing the problem. If we knew we were not going to get any money we could make plans, but the uncertainty is really damaging.”
NHS England, which is responsible for allocating the integrated digital care technology fund, had been expected to announce successful bidders in autumn 2014, but no announcement has yet been made.
Reports that the fund has been raided come after health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced in November that an extra £300m would be added to the winter pressures fund, which was originally worth £400m. All the winter pressures funding has been allocated.
This is the third time that money originally set aside for technology projects has been cut or left unallocated. Around £60m of a previous £260m tranche of technology funding was clawed back by the Department of Health, while £35m of the £100m nursing technology fund was also not allocated.
HSJ understands that the £35m of the nursing technology fund which has not been allocated has also been subsumed into the winter pressures fund.
Two years ago Mr Hunt outlined an ambition for the NHS to be paperless by 2018. Sources contacted by HSJ said the funding reallocations dealt a significant blow to what was already a highly ambitious target.
NHS England declined to comment on the cut the technology fund. A spokeswoman said NHS England was only in charge on administration and the amount of money available was a decision for the DH and the Treasury.
When asked to comment on allegations that around half of the £240m fund had been reallocated to winter pressures spending, a Department of Health spokesman said the “amount of money going into NHS technology” was not reducing.
He added: “[On] the back of a strong economy, in the autumn statement the government committed to an additional £2bn for the NHS front line next year. This funding is conditional on the NHS becoming paperless by 2018, and so the amount of money available for innovative technology projects is increasing significantly.”