• NHS England distributed £35m less than planned for STP tech funding last year
  • At least one region missed out after local NHS organisations failed to reach financial agreement
  • Comes after years of cuts to NHS England tech funds

More than £35m of central tech funding for NHS providers was held back last year, with at least one region losing out after local organisations failed to reach a financial deal.

NHS England told HSJ that £65m of its £412m tech fund was distributed to pay for technology projects picked locally by sustainability and transformation partnerships or integrated care systems in 2018-19.

NHS England has previously committed to distributing £104m from the fund, known as the health system led investment fund, for 2018-19. All £412m needs to be spent by the end of 2020-21.

The release of money from the fund has already faced delays. In August last year, regions were asked to submit plans on how they would spend their allocated share for 2018-19 to NHS England for approval.

HSJ has been told the discrepancy was because some STPs had been either unable to agree on a list of projects to fund or unable to reach an agreement fast enough to spend the money in-year.

An NHS England spokesman said no region had lost funding permanently, with the spending deferred to 2019-20. NHS England did not respond to questions about how many STPs had had their tech funding held back.

Dorset ICS has confirmed it lost access to tech funding in 2018-19, after failing to reach a financial agreement locally.

Papers that went to the Dorset County Hospital Foundation Trust in March said the Dorset ICS lost access to funding because partners could not agree who would pay a 3.5 per cent fee required to gain access to funding. This meant some IT projects had been deferred and there was a risk the money could not be recovered in future years if an agreement was not reached, the papers said.

In response to HSJ’s enquiry, Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group said the ICS had been allocated £1.49m from the tech fund for 2018-19, but “not all the allocation was drawn down… as the capital funded projects will produce ongoing revenue costs, for which no additional funding is provided”.

It stated: “Clarity within our ICS is being reached on how partners can support the implementation of ICS wide solutions and fund the ongoing costs appropriately.”

All flagship digital funds announced since NHS England was established have been cut with varying degrees of severity.

In the first two years of the £1.3bn “paperless 2020” fund, of which the regional tech fund is the largest remaining component, spending on digitising trusts was £200m less than allocated.

In 2016, HSJ revealed the £900m estates and technology transformation fund for primary care would be reduced by almost £300m.

The £240m integrated digital care technology fund was badly hit – cut to just £46m in 2015 – the £260m “safer hospitals, safer wards” fund was cut to £196m in the same year; and the £100m nursing fund launched by the prime minister in 2012 was also reduced.

Several STPs have reported receiving money from the fund:

  • The East London Health and Care Partnership is planning to spend £2.6m on vital signs monitoring, system upgrades and mobilisation of staff.
  • Coventry and Warwickshire STP received money to introduce remote video consultations, a single sign-on for clinical staff, and a shared care record.
  • Humber Teaching FT has received about £650,000 to support patients in care homes access their digital records and communicate electronically with their carers.