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Accenture, Capita, IBM jump on £800m framework to make the NHS more agile as announces further reforms

Fail fast, fail often

The UK's Crown Commercial Services has awarded Accenture, Capita and IBM spots on an £800m framework created to help the NHS shift to a more agile and/or DevOps-like approach to development and support.

The services triumvirate will join Aire Logic, BJSS, Cognizant, Hippo Digital, Infinity Works Consulting, Informed Solutions, Kainos Software, Mastek and Netcompany on the contracting arrangement intended to build and manage live NHS services and oversee data system migration under the "Digital Capability for Health" scheme.

In a week when health secretary Matt Hancock announced major reforms, Crown Commercial Services (CCS), the buying arm of Cabinet Office, said that NHS Digital and other public-sector healthcare bodies needed outside help "for the provision of digital outcomes and supporting services."

CCS takes a 1 per cent commission on all spending via the public sector frameworks it organises.

NHS Digital is an executive non-departmental public body that provides information, data, and IT systems for commissioners, analysts, and clinicians in health and social care in England. According to the contract notice published in August 2020, the department wants DevOps suppliers to help it adopt more agile approaches to development, along the lines of the Government Digital Services' recommended approach.

NHS Digital was born out of the Health and Social Care Information Centre, which in turn came out of the troubled National Programme for IT. Its job is to "deliver systems and services to the NHS and the wider health and social care sector" in England. These might be services directly for the public. For example, it runs a system that identifies people eligible for bowel cancer screening, and invites them to clinics. It also provides services to other NHS organisations – it manages a web-based Clinical Audit Platform and the Developer Hub designed to help connect to NHS digital services through its APIs.

The body wants Capita, Accenture, IBM et al to help support ongoing live services. It also wants them to define digital services that are possible as part of the discovery and/or alpha phases in the agile methodology in order to help move live digital services to DevOps.

Separately, it is searching for suppliers of data management services to build, enhance and maintain data assets, migrate data from one system to another, as well as provide help with analytics and reporting.

The contract notice said 12 suppliers would be a "manageable" number "with whom NHS Digital can develop strategic relationships over a sufficient period of time".

"Building of closer strategic relationships will encourage suppliers to improve and innovate on their delivery of services," the tender document added. The contracts are set to last four years.

The contracts for the £800m deal have been announced as the NHS and social care in the UK enters another round of reforms focused on shifting power within this fiendishly complex health system to ministers, the same people who led the pandemic response.

Regardless of the wisdom of the move, the new strategy said the pandemic response has demonstrated "new ways to deliver care using innovative and creative solutions, exploiting the potential of digital and data, instead of needless bureaucracy." Its mission to integrate care across the NHS will rely on "on the power of digital and data to join up care and [use] that power to drive transformation."

It flagged as a major achievement the NHS COVID-19 Data Store, which "safely brought together accurate, real-time information necessary to inform decisions in response to the current pandemic in England."

Given that the government only published the contracts for the data store – which are let to Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and controversial AI firms Faculty and Palantir (which subcontracts to AWS) – under legal duress, concerns may be raised about the government's openness in contracting vital NHS IT services to the private sector. ®

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