Technology continues to be a key driver for change across the NHS. With the end of the National Programme for IT, government has placed more responsibility on NHS bodies to plan and implement their own strategic IT programmes (eg through the £500m Integrated Digital Care Technology Fund). IT now has board-level visibility as Trusts seek to deliver increased efficiency, improved clinical outcomes and better information flow, whether through the appointment of strategic IT partners, outsourcing infrastructure services or implementing business critical electronic patient record systems.

Our IT team has been supporting clients across the NHS carrying out major technology projects. Based on our experience, here are some tips on ensure your next major technology project runs smoothly.

Seek support if this is unfamiliar terrain

With contract terms of 10+ years and significant implementation and business change costs, an EPR procurement is usually a one-off for trusts and their IT and procurement teams. In such situations it is worth considering buying in consultancy support.

Spend time developing your requirements

Time invested up front almost invariably delivers value later in the project. Every Trust’s requirements are different and there is no one size fits all solution on the market (as NPfIT showed). A difference in expectation between customer and supplier is at the heart of almost all IT disputes. Time spent getting this right means clarity on both sides, better supplier relationships and consequently reduced risk of a failure in the relationship – and the cost and disruption that brings.

Engage with the market

Market engagement can help inform both the shape of the procurement exercise and the detail of the Trust’s requirements. Given the range of solutions on the market, it is an important step. A good dialogue with potential bidders is also a good way to get clinicians engaged in the project. Experience tells us that clinical engagement is one of the primary success factors in NHS IT. 

Trusts are often frightened of engaging with the market because of concerns about breaching procurement rules. Though you should take steps to ensure transparency and equal treatment of potential bidders, early market engagement is lawful and positively encouraged by Cabinet Office.

Build in flexibility

Long term contracts and often a heavy reliance on a small number of providers mean that contracts need to be flexible enough to deliver future technology changes required by the Trust. The flexibility for change needs to be built into the procurement documentation right from the start of the project and the contract needs to be structured to support it.