Published: 26/09/2002, Volume II2, No. 5824 Page 1

You do not have to be a highly paid consultant to know that, when it comes to IT and the NHS, the pace of development is far too slow. Just being an inpatient will normally suffice.

Targets are very laudable, and make for good newspaper copy, but they are largely meaningless, as there is no real penalty for missing them - apart from patient care failing to improve.

So It is hardly surprising that the Department of Health plans to take far greater control of the specification, procurement, resource management, performance management and delivery of information and the IT agenda as set out in Delivering 21st Century IT Support for the NHS.

A key part of the selective 'strategic outsourcing' being planned will be the appointment of prime service providers.

The names of potential candidates discussed in the media make sense.

However, if the NHS is to get the IT it so badly needs, PSPs will need to concentrate on service delivery and not be tempted to claim to be able to supply clinical application content.

If there is one thing That is not in short supply, It is really good application content providers, ranging from enterprise electronic patient record suppliers at one end of the spectrum, to niche disease monitoring software providers at the other. Equally, potential content providers should not think that they can look after the service provision without a considerable investment in their staff headcount. At present, no single supplier in the UK market is able to do both.

In terms of the PSP strategy, I can see the development of a positive implementation in which most of the players concentrate on service delivery and forge close working relationships with the leading application content providers.

Those that had the foresight to focus on XML-based interconnectivity will reap the benefits of being able to move data seamlessly throughout the enterprise.

I believe that to get world-class IT underpinning a world-class health service, Sir John Pattison, the DoH's director of research, analysis and information, is right to insist on a pure separation between application vendors and service providers.

Only then, with each organisation concentrating on its proven strengths, will clinicians gain access to the information they need, where and when they need it - and patients the treatment they deserve.

Ken Jacobson is European chief executive officer, iSOFT