• IT supplier for six in 10 UK GPs moving patient data onto Amazon Cloud
  • New cloud-based system will include smartphone video consultations
  • Move will require NHS Digital approval

More than 40 million UK patient records will be shifted onto Amazon Web Services, as part of a wider upgrade by the dominant NHS GP IT supplier.

Emis Group announced on Friday that it would be replacing its Emis Web software with Emis-X.

Emis Web is used by about six in 10 GP practices in the UK and holds about 40 million patient records, including the majority of GP records.

The new system, which still needs to pass NHS Digital approval, would shift billions of clinical documents and other information from the company’s own servers onto AWS.

The move would mark one of the biggest shifts of NHS electronic patient records, usually stored on local NHS organisation or IT supplier servers, onto one of the three major global cloud companies (Amazon, Microsoft and Google).

It would also come with the introduction of more digital patient services embedded within this core IT system used by the majority of British GPs, including video consultations via a patient’s smartphone and a chatbot digital triage service.

The announcement comes after health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said last month that he expected all NHS IT services and data to move onto the public cloud, where they would benefit from “the resilience and backups of some of the most cyber-aware and heavily invested companies in the world”.

NHS officials have previously estimated this shift would cost £500m.

It also comes as Emis, and the other major NHS GP IT supplier TPP, face growing pressure from NHS regulators to improve their software, particularly its ability to share patient data.

In September, Mr Hancock told a conference audience he’d been “appalled” by NHS staff horror stories about primary care IT and said suppliers that did not improve would be excluded from the NHS.

NHS Digital officials have previously described the current GP IT duopoly, where Emis and TPP collectively control 90 per cent of the market, as a “market failure” and a drag on innovation.

A new £400m NHS GP IT framework designed to correct this failure is scheduled to go live next year.

Speaking to HSJ, Emis Group chief executive Andy Thorburn rejected the suggestion there had been a market failure in the past.

“Fifty-six per cent of the market has chosen to be with us. The [current] framework has four providers on it,” Mr Thorburn said. 

However, he said the company also welcomed the move towards more competition for GP IT services in the NHS. The new system was part of becoming a software “platform” to support shift, including supporting competing digital services.

“The models of care are changing, and we need to provide a more flexible system,” he said. “We want to [be a] key provider in this market for another 30 years.”

An agreement has already been reached between Emis and AWS for the shift but the company did not give a clear timeline for when it would be rolled out.

Parts of the new system, such as video consultations and more advanced analytics, would be gradually added to the existing Emis Web software, with GPs unlikely to notice the switch to AWS, the company said.

Patients would be able to access new services, such as digital triage, through the ”patient access” app and website.

Mr Thorburn said these patient services had been under development before the growth of digital GP services, such as Babylon or Push Doctor, in the NHS.

“We are not in the business of delivering GP services, so we are not competing with those people,” he said. “We wish them well.”

The company said Emis-X would be hosted on AWS servers within the UK and meet NHS interoperability standards.