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HSCIC wraps up NHS Spine transition



Organisation completes programme to take management of the 'backbone' for connecting systems in-house and move to open source

Work on moving the NHS Spine to in-house management and redeveloping it to run on open source software has been completed, following an 18 month transition project run by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

The organisation said it believes the Spine, which provides the technological backbone for connections between clinicians and service providers in NHS England, is now the largest public sector IT system to be built entirely on open source, and this will make it easier for developers to work with.

Originally developed as part of the NHS National Programme for IT, the Spine connects various systems including the Electronic Prescriptions Service, Summary Care Record and e-Referrals Service.

It was previously run by BT Global Services under a 10-year contract, but is now managed from the HSCIC Digital Delivery Centre in Leeds.

A spokesperson for the HSCIC told UKAuthority that it had made the move rather than tendering for another large contract as it wanted to make more use of agile technology and SMEs.

“HSCIC decided this was the best way to go in servicing the needs of the NHS,” she said.

A Leeds based IT consultancy, BJSS, has been active in the transitioning and development work. HSCIC said the system has been operating at 100% availability since August 2015.

Flexibility decision

Rob Shaw, director of assurance services at HSCIC, said: "The usual practice for a big public sector project like this has been to give the whole thing to a large supplier. We decided that we could manage and make improvements to Spine more flexibly in-house, and have worked with a number of specialist SMEs to successfully deliver our aims.

"The NHS relies on the Spine in order to operate effectively, and we couldn't afford for it to experience long periods of downtime. For this reason we planned the transitions minute by minute to ensure that we would not affect patient care or inconvenience NHS workers any more than was absolutely necessary. In the end we managed the entire transition with just minutes of downtime, none of which was unplanned."

The first transition was completed in August 2014, when the core services were transferred to the HSCIC. In February 2015 they were followed by the Care Identity Service, which manages secure access to IT services for NHS staff, and the Secondary Uses Service database, which holds 80 million patient demographic records.

The project was completed on 31 January 2016 when Messaging Exchange for Social Care and Health was launched and HSCIC took on responsibility for managing secure clinical messaging between Spine applications. This is particularly important for pathology and other test results, which are sent directly from the laboratory to the appropriate clinician using this system.

HSCIC said a number of new services will be introduced in the coming months.

Image by BodyParts3D, CC BY-SA 2.1 jp via Wikimedia Commons

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