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£9.5m NHS Tech Innovation Framework seeks cloud-only GP solutions

NHS Digital says more than 36 suppliers have already expressed interest.

NHS Digital has launched a call for suppliers to operate under a new £9.5 million NHS Tech Innovation Framework, to provide cloud-based IT services to GPs.

The framework is the next stage of the GP IT Futures programme, which was launched in 2019, and aimed to improve the range of technology GPs have access to – long a complaint among doctors. The programme is designed to provide GPs with interoperable IT services to improve patient care, as well as better access to information and access to clinical trials.

The new NHS Tech Innovation Framework takes this approach further, by enforcing requirements that all systems be entirely based on the public cloud, use open APIs, and are accessible via web browser. All solutions will also need to provide at least six core functions: patient information maintenance; appointments management; recording consultations; prescribing; referral management; and resource management.

The tender documents for the NHS Tech Innovation Framework ask would-be suppliers to provide short videos outlining the user journey for all of the six core functions they will be required to provide. They will also need to provide details of the public cloud solution the systems will use, and how primary care workers will access the systems.

See also: NHS’s “basic IT infrastructure lacking” trusts still paper-based

According to NHS Digital, 36 suppliers have already expressed an interest in the framework, after initial supplier engagement before the formal tender launch. Seventy-four suppliers applied for the original GP IT Futures tender after it launched, with 69 being initially accepted.

Guidance for the NHS Tech Innovation Framework was at pains to stress the new framework was not looking to displace current providers of IT systems to GPs, and will be an extension to existing frameworks, focused on cloud-based, browser-accessible tools.

“It is important that all suppliers recognise that we are not replacing what is already there today. This work is about offering greater choice into the market by publishing standards for a new vision that allows current and new suppliers to make use of new technologies available today,” said the guidance.

Last year saw some controversy around contracts provided under the GP IT Futures framework, when in the midst of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic a number of contracts were rolled over without competition. Graham Kendall, director of the Digital Healthcare Council, told Digital Health at the time the move would send “deeply damaging signals to digital healthcare suppliers”.

'Key metrics should be published at practice level'

Regarding the new NHS Tech Innovation Framework, Kendall told The Stack that anything to encourage competition was welcome. But he said it was important to have clear information about the framework, including how it fits into the 36 current ways of procuring technology recommended by NHS England - and to make data being gathered much more available.

"Crucially we need to publish information about what really matters to end users. That means much greater transparency on user feedback, utilisation and how solutions support improved outcomes," said Kendall by email.

“We know, for example, that NHS England currently collects a huge amount of information from suppliers about services on the DFOCVC [Digital First Online Consultation and Video Consultation] framework. However, that information never sees the light of day. If we are serious about empowering patients and those procuring new solutions to improve services, then key metrics from that information should be published at practice level.”

Helen Clifton, executive director for product delivery at NHS Digital, said in a press release: “This is a key step forward on our journey to putting patients at the heart of everything we do by ensuring primary care benefits from the very latest technology.

"The new framework will introduce new solutions into the market to work alongside our current GP offer, providing greater choice and different user experiences. It will give GPs access to innovative solutions that feature tools they need to make their jobs easier and services which enhance the care they provide patients.”

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The NHS’s IT capabilities are coming under increasing scrutiny at all levels of the healthcare system. This week health secretary Sajid Javid caused controversy when he described the NHS as a “Blockbuster health system in the age of Netflix” in reference to the now-defunct video rental chain.

And today the Financial Times reported Palantir as the presumed front-runner in bidding for the £360 million Federated Data Platform contract, which will see the winner handle all the health service’s underlying data. Palantir was found to have been working alongside Cambridge Analytica at Global Science Research, a company founded to share data controversially mined from Facebook surveys.