Healthy prognosis for the NHS

Healthy prognosis for the NHS

Government reforms in the health service have been controversial. Butfor accountants the reforms have been little short of revolutionary andthe underlying IT systems are struggling to keep up, writes Guy Dresser.

Health has long been a laggard in the IT modernisation race, but in the last five years the sector has been catching up. Just two years ago, the IT emphasis was more on processing data than passing information across the organisation, according to Nicolo Nisbett, healthcare marketing manager at software suppliers Cedardata.

‘It’s no longer the case that NHS accountants are using just accounts systems – they are all moving to sophisticated management information systems. The newest technology is being ordered and it is a vibrant sector,’ he said.

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), not much used in the healthcare sector, is the fastest growing area of new technology, according to a survey of IT purchasing habits of 55 NHS trusts commissioned by Cedardata.

The survey’s findings ranged from the truly revealing – 63% of healthcare sites now use an external provider in part or in full for their financial systems – to the obvious: 63% of sites also consider graphical user interfaces to be ‘important or very important’. Even the most ardent advocate of character-based software could not fail to acknowledge the direction just about everyone else in the market is taking. What on earth can the other 37% be thinking of?

Health service managers may be buying new kit, but software developers are not making all the running in the NHS. Nisbett said software houses specialising in healthcare found themselves asked to do less and less implementation – contracting out the management of accounting systems starts early on and they don’t get much of the work directly.

‘More systems are being sourced through larger end providers such as Cap Gemini Sogeti, AT&T and CSC. We’re comfortable with this arrangement as we partner with others. We’re seeing the likes of Price Waterhouse, Coopers & Lybrand and Ernst & Young in the health service, but not so much yet in the procurement of new finance systems. This will change,’ he added.

Stockport Acute Services NHS trust awarded a u480,000, seven-year contract for accounting systems to AT&T two weeks ago, replacing a mix of systems with one integrated solution from McKeown Software.

Just 7% of NHS trusts have so far totally outsourced their financial systems to a third-party provider, but that proportion is set to boom if the number of facilities management suppliers currently entering the market is any indication of the way end-users are likely to go.

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