NHS set to save millions as botched NPfIT storage deals come to an end

By Graeme Burton
13 Aug 2014 View Comments
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Hospitals across England and Wales are set to reap savings of 90 per cent on storage hardware procurement costs as poorly conceived storage deals, designed under the discredited National Programme for IT (NPfIT) in the NHS, draw to a close.

Under the contracts for the picture archiving and communications (PAC) systems dictated nationally by the NPfIT, hospital trusts were locked into purchasing out-dated tier-one storage hardware to work with MIA, the PAC system database designed and run by BT.

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Not only that, but the price of the same storage hardware had been fixed centrally under NPfIT and became progressively less competitively priced every year as storage per megabyte fell in price - but the NPfIT storage hardware did not.

Dzinja Kabambe, head of strategic IT projects at Homerton University Hospital Foundation Trust, said that instead of spending £50,000 per year to extend its tier-one storage estate, it would now be spending just one-tenth of that on more appropriate hardware.

"There were, effectively, two huge contracts for these PAC systems. With one of them, in the northern half of the country, the contract expired last year, but the service terminated this year. The London contract will expire this year, while the service will terminate next year," Kabambe told Computing.

"So there are double-digit numbers of trusts in London all undergoing these same sorts of exercises in one form or another at the moment," he said.

Homerton completed the transfer of its legacy clinical imaging data from BT's MIA database this month and will in future keep only those images required to support patients undergoing treatment on expensive tier-one storage, and for a year after their last appointment. That will ensure that staff can access the images within one or two seconds.

Images will be progressively relegated to lower-tier storage, and also archived on a system held on the Microsoft Azure cloud.

Across the country, the savings that hospital trusts will be able to generate from running their own, more flexible storage architectures will run into tens of millions of pounds over the next five years.

"When the contracts were issued, depending on the region of the country, the PAC you received had ultimately been specified by government," John McCann, director of marketing at specialist healthcare storage software supplier Bridgehead, told Computing.

"When you bought that PAC system it came as an appliance with the storage and you were signed up for ten years whereby the price of that storage was pre-determined. What generally happened was that you had the PAC that was 'mandated' for you," said McCann.

"You took the storage specified and what happened was that in two years when you ran out of storage space, you had to go back and buy that storage again from the PAC system vendor at the pre-agreed price.

"But two years on, the market price had come down considerably and you couldn't benefit from any of the latest technology advances... Trusts found themselves in a very inflexible lock-in whereby they had to pay an inflated price for storage for a system that was almost out-of-date because that's what the NPfIT contract specified," said McCann.

Many NHS trusts, like Homerton, are wasting little time in getting themselves out of those expensive NPfIT contracts and designing more appropriate, and cheaper, storage architectures, he adds.

"The end of the NPfIT contract has been a fantastic opportunity for trusts like Homerton to start again based on what is best for them - the technologies that are best for them, and which will give them the flexibility and choice they need," said McCann.

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