• · Health and social care secretary hits out at “clunky” and “dangerous” NHS IT systems
  • · Call for end to large, long IT contracts and boost of NHS IT procurement expertise
  • · Says he will back trust boards that get on with IT, and “come down very hard” on those that don’t

The new health and social care secretary has said “big contracts” for NHS IT services are over, claiming the service is often taken advantage of by suppliers.

Speaking at the Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester on Thursday, Matt Hancock said: “suppliers’ interests are too often not aligned with NHS interests and the contracts are badly managed.”

More broadly he criticised both suppliers and some NHS trust boards for the “clunky” and “dangerous” state of NHS IT.

He said: “Having thousands of databases that don’t talk to each other costs lives. A world in which a hospital can’t pull up a patient’s GP record is downright dangerous.”

Since he started in the job in July, NHS staff had shared some “horror stories” in their experience with IT systems, with frequent crashes and poor sharing between systems.

“I have been appalled at some of the stories of blockages, especially in the suppliers on primary care. We are going to be extremely robust with any supplier that does not live up to the standards we are mandating,” he said.

Mr Hancock said the NHS needed to “split” big IT contracts into smaller and shorter ones involving more SMEs and controlled by expanded in-house teams of NHS experts.

“Out with the big service contract, in with the in-house agile teams that can be smarter at contracting.”

“I don’t want to see [an] automatic knee-jerk reaction to an IT problem of engaging the big consultancies to tell us what the problem is, sell us a solution and often mark their own homework.”

He acknowledged that expanding NHS IT procurement and potentially breaking existing lengthy IT contracts need to be funded and said it was being “worked on as part of the long-term plan”.

He said some NHS organisations had “overlearned” the lessons of the “catastrophic” National Programme for IT and needed to move faster to adopt new technology.

“Where there is a lack of will, I will come down very hard.”

For boards that pushed forward with adopting new technology, Mr Hancock said he would back them, even in the event of mistakes and mis-steps.

“I’m not looking for people to blame, I am looking for people to step up and lead.”

His comments about suppliers comes as NHS leaders try to build standards to share data between systems into new national IT frameworks, including the new GP IT framework currently under development.

His comments echo previous concerns raised by other NHS leaders that dominant IT suppliers have been slow to release control of NHS patient data, stifling competition and the ability to share data to improve NHS care, planning and research.

Mr Hancock also announced a further £200m of existing tech funding would be spent of a new round of “digital exemplar” trusts and the new NHS patient app would be piloted in five regions ahead of a wider release at the end of the year.