• Health secretary urges trusts to build tech leadership and capability
  • Says homegrown NHS systems are often better and much cheaper than buying in
  • Primary care IT providers have indicated they will cooperate with interoperable standards

The health secretary has said NHS chief executives should “be asking serious questions” of themselves if their board does not include a chief information officer.

Matt Hancock also said IT systems developed by NHS organisations themselves could be much better value than those bought in, and encouraged other trusts to try to adopt them.

During an extensive interview, he stressed a number of times that technology should be a priority for chief executives, and that having a chief information officer on their board was important for developing the systems they need and making best use of data.

In a comment directed at trust chief executives, he said: “If you haven’t got your CIO on board then you need to be asking serious questions of yourself.”

He said trusts should have their CIO “probably on their board, certainly reporting directly to the chief executive, and I find it very surprising many people are not moving in this direction”.

Mr Hancock said that this, along with senior backing and developing good in house IT capability, would help trusts develop and operate good IT themselves, rather than relying on often expensive and poor value bought in systems, and “radically reduce costs”.

“In house solutions can often be much, much, much better value for money than buying something in from outside,” he added, saying Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust – which has taken this approach – has a good system for a “radically lower – like less than 10 per cent of the cost – of an equivalent system bought in from some big American provider”.

Asked if trusts should look at buying IT systems from NHS organisations which have built their own, like Leeds or University Hospitals Birmingham Foundation Trust, he said: “Yes they should. I’m also really interested in whether there are essentially public sector open source solutions that can be written, that others can then draw down. After all lots of these systems are needed in lots of hospitals.”

This could also help trusts negotiate lower prices with external suppliers, he said.

Asked about what he would do to help the UK catch up with other countries on use of artificial intelligence and data in health, Mr Hancock said trusts and areas needed to develop good datasets locally, and that a national approach, or appointing a company to do the work, would not work.

“I’m not going to go down the road [of] one big national dataset, not least because of the privacy concerns around that, cyber security concerns,” he said.

“I will not bring in one company to have complete supplier capture… That is the impulse that was behind the national programme [for IT] that led to that catastrophe. It’s what’s behind some of the projects that have been run by companies like Capita – that aren’t working well enough for some of the communications with patients.

“Technology is no longer an add on – it is integral to the running of any serious business, and every hospital in this country is a serious business, and if people don’t get that, they’re in the wrong business.”

He said interoperability rules would help and that suppliers were indicating they would cooperate with the standards he published for consultation earlier this year.

“The big providers of primary care services – TPP, EMIS and the others – are on board for this. At least at a senior level they tell me they are on board and I believe them… and, by the way, if they don’t abide by facts, you know it will be a pain in the neck, but they’d be out and their competitors… would swallow up the rest of the market so… I’m trying to make it in suppliers’ commercial interests to follow these mandated standards.”