NHS shake up: It is good news for outsourcing

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According to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s plans outlined in last week’s white paper entitled ‘Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS’, patients and doctors have been promised a bigger role in health services. A range of online services will be provided much more efficiently at a time and place that is convenient for patients and will also enable greater efficiency.

What these reforms mean in practical terms is that strategic health authorities and primary care trusts will be phased out and spending power will be given to GPs.

Management costs will be slashed by 45 per cent and up to £20 billion of efficiency savings by 2014, paving the way for GPs to take responsibility for up to £80 billion a year in commissioning health care.

The Government’s efficiency drive is likely to deliver billions of pounds of new business for private companies, particularly outsourcing companies in areas such as data management, transactional management and IT support.

Let’s look at IT support. The two main suppliers to the National Programme for IT (NPflT); BT and CSC, are no doubt going to face greater competition from new IT providers that will be sourced locally by hospitals, rather than through the centralised arrangement of the national programme.

It won’t come as a surprise that GPs are likely to want to deal with organisations similar in size to their practices, and which can meet their specific needs, instead of having them dictated by the NPfIT. The NPfIT was one solution/contract, and therefore was much easier to administer, but it did not succeed in catering to every organisation’s requirements.

Under the reforms, IT will be in the hands of the user, which should mean they’ll get a bespoke service. However, as a result of this approach, we face several problems: users may have no experience in procurement or outsourcing; some bespoke services may be more expensive; and tailored services may mean a possible lack of national standards which could lead to problems with data exchange, etc.

It makes sense that any practice or consortia responsible for IT procurement considers appointing a team that will be responsible for managing the IT services for GPs and they in turn must understand procurement, outsourcing, and shared services.

We are likely to see an increase in shared services, with a number of practices or consortia taking this approach in a bid to attract reputable suppliers and the bigger players which may otherwise not even bother tendering for smaller contracts.

The reforms are aimed at achieving greater value for money and improving efficiency, but badly drafted outsourcing contracts or managed programmes could end up costing taxpayers dearly.

To avoid these pitfalls, those responsible for managing NHS IT programmes could not do better than look to the NOA for support, where they can learn about outsourcing best practice, knowledge-share with peer groups, plus they could even consider some of their members taking qualifications in outsourcing.

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