NHS trusts have been asked to submit urgent bids for investment in their digital services, as national leaders seek to achieve the government’s target for the health service to be paperless by 2020.

In a regional NHS England memo sent out last week, seen by HSJ, the national body said it was reviewing the “capital allocation position” with the Department of Health for the remaining two months of 2016-17.

It said funds could be provided “to organisations which urgently need investment in their digital services to support key strategic, operational or patient safety needs”. Trusts were given two days to express interest, and told the projects would need to be completed by March 2017. 

The memo was issued on the same day that NHS Improvement told trusts their overall capital investment plans were unaffordable.

The digital investment funds would come through the “provider digitisation programme”, which has been allocated £1.3bn over five years.

These funds count against the DH capital budget, which has been cut to £3.6bn in 2016-17 after £1.2bn was transferred to the revenue account.

Trusts were told that individual proposals should not exceed £1m.

The memo added: “Due to the speed of this request and that the project needs to be delivered by March 2017 we expect that your bid will be related to a business case you have already developed.”

NHS England was asked about the short timescales involved, but did not respond.

Updated 5.20pm 3 February: Trusts have now been told the funds are not available.