By Tony Collins
An NHS organisation in London has bought an electronic patient record system for less than a third of the cost of similar technology that is being supplied by BT to other trusts in the capital and the south of England.
The £7.1m purchase by Whittington Health – a trust that incorporates Whittington Hospital near Archway tube station – raises further questions about why the Department of Health is paying BT between £31m and £36m for each installation of the Cerner Millennium electronic patient record [EPR] system under the NPfIT.
Whittington Health is buying the Medway EPR system from System C which is owned by McKesson. The plan is for the EPR to operate across GP, hospital and social care boundaries.
It will include a patient portal. The idea is that patients will use the portal to log on to their Whittington Health accounts, see and save test results and letters, and manage outpatient appointments on-line.
In a board paper, Whittington Health’s IT Director Glenn Winteringham puts the case for spending £7.1m on a single integrated EPR. Winteringham puts the average cost of System C’s Medway at £8m. This cost, he says, represents “significant value for money” against the average deployment costs for the NHS Connecting for Health solution (Cerner Millennium) for London of £31m. In the south of England the average cost of Cerner Millennium is £36m, says Winteringham in his paper.
He also points out that the new EPR will avoid costs for using “Rio” community systems. The NPfIT contract with BT for Rio runs out mid 2015. “From this date onwards the Trust will incur an annual maintenance and support cost. Implementing the EPR will enable cost avoidance to the [organisation] of £4m per year to use RIO (indicative quotes from BT are £2m instance of RIO and the [organisation] has 2 – Islington and Haringey).
BT’s quote to Whittington for Rio is several times higher than the cost of Rio when supplied directly by its supplier CSE Healthcare Systems. A CSE competitor Maracis has said that, during a debrief, it was told that its prices were similar to those offered by CSE Healthcare for a Rio deployment – then less than £600,000 for installation and five years of support.
In comparison BT’s quote to Whittington for Rio, as supplied under the NPfIT, puts the cost of the system at more than fifteen times the cost of buying Rio directly.
In short Whittington and Winteringham will save taxpayers many millions by buying Medway rather than acquiring Cerner and Rio from BT.
Why such a price difference?
The difference between the £31m and £36m paid to BT for Cerner Millennium and the £8m on average paid to System C could be partly explained by the fact that Whittington (and University Hospitals Bristol) bought directly from the supplier, not through an NPfIT local service provider contract between the Department of Health and BT. Under the NPfIT contract BT is, in essence, an intermediary.
But why should an EPR system cost several times more under the NHS IT scheme than bought outside it?
Did officials who agreed to payments to BT for Cerner and Rio mistakenly add some digits?
Whittington’s purchase of System C’s Medway again raises the question – which has gone unanswered despite the best efforts of dogged MP Richard Bacon – of why the Department of Health has intervened in the NHS to pay prices for Rio and Cerner that caricature profligacy.
Perhaps the DH should give BT £8m for each installation of Cerner Millennium and donate the remaining £21m to a charity of BT’s choice. The voluntary sector would gain hundreds of millions of pounds and the DH could at last be praised for spending its IT money wisely.