Three hospital trusts have taken a significant step forward in developing a pioneering electronic patient records system, which could be a blueprint for other NHS providers to follow.

Taunton and Somerset Foundation Trust, St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals Trust and Blackpool Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust have established a community interest company to be the host organisation for a new open source patient records system.

The three organisations will all use the same open source electronic records system, OpenMAXIMS, provided by IT vendor IMS Maxims.  

The three trusts came to an agreement on the project in December and the new company was approved by Companies House earlier this month.

The trusts said the new system will cut costs and encourage more clinicians to get involved with developing the software.

Open source advocates say benefits include avoiding being locked into lengthy contracts with proprietary vendors, who charge substantial fees for system alterations, and also that trusts will be able to involve greater clinical engagement in the design of the systems.

This is made possible because the source code in open source systems is available for use and modification free of charge.

Based on a model first used in the US, the community interest company acts as the “custodian” of the code that underpins the system.

It also provides an environment in which the code can be tested before use. Member trusts can then make alterations to the code to tailor the system for their needs.

Taunton and Somerset’s informatics director, Malcolm Senior, told HSJ the trust would be able to cut its £2m electronic patient record system running costs “by about half” in the longer term, in comparison with the Cerner Millennium system it is using at the moment.  

Mr Senior said: “The community interest company is a way to form an alliance with other trusts who are using the same system as us and trying to deliver the same sort of care of us.

“The community interest company allows us to get the benefits of economies of scale and risk sharing but we can still develop a system with the functionality we need to best suit our local needs.”

However, he added that it was “disappointing” that the trust was still awaiting to hear on whether it had secured funding from the second tranche of NHS technology funding, which was originally worth £240m but has been raided by the government for winter pressures funding, as HSJ revealed last month. 

“We had planned, based on feedback, that our bid was a priority for funding, but it’s now February and we’ve still not heard anything,” Mr Senior said.

Chair of the Chief Clinical Information Officers Network Joe McDonald said the new company was a “really interesting, positive development”.

Dr McDonald said: “NHS England is looking to build an infrastructure of open source projects that could rival some of the big suppliers and develop more flexible, adaptable, NHS friendly systems.

“As well as developing systems that people can adapt to their local needs, it might make the big providers pause for thought about the amount they are charging trusts.”

NHS England announced in 2013 it wanted to encourage more trusts to use open source patient records systems and that a number of trusts were looking to establish community interest companies in order to do so.