Published: 26/09/2002, Volume II2, No. 5824 Page 19

A radical procurement strategy has been proposed for putting key components of the new NHS IT programme in place.

The strategy relies on consortiums led by prime service providers - big technology firms with a proven ability to implement systems on a big scale. The model has been borrowed from other areas of government and is designed to overcome the traditional fragmentation of the NHS IT market.

There will be two types of PSP. Domain PSPs will be chosen to deliver national components of the national IT programme, such as e-booking. Implementation PSPs will work with strategic health authorities on core programmes.

The NHS will develop system standards and vendors wanting to join PSP consortia will be required to have their systems accredited by the NHS Information Authority first.

A tight timetable has been set for getting the proposed systems in place, with an Official Journal of the European Communities advertisement due in October.

A shortlist of PSPs should be in place by next April, with a first phase of implementations starting later in 2003.

Professor Sir John Pattison, Department of Health head of research, analysis and information, has suggested that there will be at least three waves, starting in November 2003, with all parts of the country involved by 2005.

The new strategy has met with a mixed response, with some suppliers seeing it as a realistic response to the new, more centralised IT agenda, and others concerned at the turbulence it will cause in the IT market.

There is also growing concern that IT investment is stalling on the ground as NHS organisations decide 'IT is no longer their problem', despite the timescale and risks involved in such a major programme.