IT Strategy: Should We Take Another View on Contractors in the NHS?


Business Insight, Healthcare

Having worked for two very successful VARs, providing IT solutions for the NHS over the last 10 years, I have seen many advancements that have not only changed the face of NHS Trusts, but also had a significant impact on patient care.

However, for some time, IT in the NHS has been somewhat of a political hot potato, thrown around for the wrong reasons with very little regard for the benefits IT brings to the sector. Many changes have been trialled, implemented and sometimes abandoned in an attempt to put the NHS at the forefront of technology, where it needs to be.

Starting with the NHS Information Authority which laid the foundations for integrated information systems, this then became the National Programme for IT and NHS Connecting for Health, aiming to devolve responsibility for resources to frontline NHS organisations. Other significant changes have included the birth of NHS Mail and the new era of Electronic Patient Record Systems. Changes that have, despite the complexity of the situation, enabled the NHS to innovate for efficiency.

But of all the topics, one really sticks in my mind and that’s the huge impact IT contractors have had on the NHS, an impact with issues. This topic raises many questions:

  • Do the contractors truly understand the Trust’s IT strategy and its objectives or to them, is it just another IT contract?
  • Does the contractor ever really buy-in to a project and get the support and investment of the employed IT Trust staff?
  • Would they prolong the length of a project to prolong their own contract there?
  • Are contractors really worth what they charge as a daily rate?

In my time I have met some contractors who weren’t interested in the NHS strategy; that much was clear. Yet on the other hand I have worked with great contractors who want to make a difference. The majority of IT contractors already involved with the health service tend to be in it for the longer-term and concentrated on seeing out the completion of multiple projects; they aren’t a fly by night set-up. Having transformed the IT of multiple NHS trusts I’ve seen contractors who have filled the necessary skills gap and brought new skills and experience that was needed within particular trust.

The emphasis shouldn’t be on what effect IT contractors have on the NHS but on that the entire IT team (contractors or not) must understand the Trust’s IT strategy from the off-set and understand that the NHS is a business under immense pressure to save money, improve care and streamline processes. IT is not about innovation for innovation’s sake. And this could not be more true for the NHS. Here, efficiency is the priority, because by increasing efficiency, more time and money can be invested where it really matters, treating patients.

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An insight from our Public Sector Sales Manager, Gareth Ainsworth

Posted by Gareth Ainsworth