• NHS Digital team has already helped 25 trusts with IT deployments
  • Says there has been growing demand from trusts needing support after deployments go wrong
  • Comes as agency pushed for bigger central IT role after years of post-NPfIT fragmentation

A new central technology team is being parachuted into NHS trusts to clean up after major IT deployments go wrong.

The NHS Digital team has been brought in to help 25 trusts since April, including eight trusts that needed emergency assistance after an IT deployment led to severe service disruptions.

Other trusts had sought help ahead of deployments or when developing a business case for new IT projects.

The service, known as the trust system support model, grew organically in response to trust demand but has now been formalised.

Dan West, who heads up a new provider digitisation unit in NHS Digital, told HSJ that since the National Programme for IT was wound up, trusts had been left to manage their own IT.

However, there was a growing “pattern” of trusts needing external support, he said.

“The number of times that people were coming to us for assistance and support, it became clear that we need to industrialise this.”

Mr West cited one large hospital trust that had been forced to revert to paper earlier this year after upgrades to their electronic patient record went wrong. Neither the IT department or the supplier was able to fix the system.

NHS Digital came in, fixed the problem, and used that experience to help other trusts preparing to deploy IT systems from the same supplier.

“It is about building that system wide capability and knowledge sharing to support those significant technology deployments that have their inherent risks and figuring out how, as a system, we can mitigate those risks.”

NHS Digital has set aside £2m a year for the service, which it expects to expand as the latest push to digitise trusts picks up steam.

Mr West declined to name the trusts the service had helped.

The programme comes as NHS Digital pushes for a bigger central role in helping providers deploy clinical IT system across the NHS.

A paper on the long term plan that went to the NHS Digital board last week said the lack of central control in the aftermath of the NPfIT had “resulted in a huge level of heterogeneity across the health and care system, making interoperability and cost containment very challenging”.

This fragmentation had led to “sub-optimal” and expensive relationships between NHS organisations and IT suppliers, the paper said.

“A lack of expertise and scale in small provider IT teams is one of the inhibitors to quality IT delivery in some localities.”

That paper said NHS Digital needed to “mature” and become “increasingly influential and impactful” in helping digitise individual providers.

However, NHS Digital has also faced criticism from other parts of the NHS and IT suppliers.

An organisational review last year, based partly on conversations with suppliers and NHS partners, identified major skill gaps and a reliance on out-of-date technology within NHS Digital.

In response to the review and a shrinking funding base, NHS Digital is undertaking a major restructure which will include shedding hundreds of staff and taking on more people with technical IT skills.

Mr West is one early recruit, moving from consultancy Accenture where he was managing director for the UK, US and Europe in July to head up NHS Digital’s provider digitisation unit.

The trust support model is voluntary and comes at no cost to the trust.

As well as NHS Digital staff, it has a pool of “associates” across the NHS that can be seconded to respond to a failed IT deployment.