IBM picked as core partner for NHS App in £50m deal

Four-year contract with tech vendor came into effect this summer

Credit: Pxhere

IBM has been signed up as the core technology supplier partner for the NHS App in a long-term deal worth more than £50m.

Recently released procurement information reveals that the IT firm was appointed to a four-year contract with NHS Digital on 30 June. Bidding took place in September 2021 in a process run via the Digital Capability for Health framework – a commercial vehicle featuring 11 suppliers of software development and digital support services.

The contract-award notice contains little detail, but in a statement provided to PublicTechnology, NHS Digital said that “following a fair and transparent procurement process… IBM was selected as a new supplier… to provide NHS App development and ‘DevOps’ capability”.

It added: “The NHS App continues to be publicly owned and operated by the NHS. Delivery is supported through a contract with a prime supplier to provide additional technical capacity and expertise to support the efficient and effective use of our time and budget.”

The deal is forecast to be worth £52.4m to the tech vendor, and with a maximum value is £54m, according to NHS Digital. This is some way below the estimate of between £63m and £79m as specified in the tender process last year.

Is it not known how many firms on the Digital Capability framework bid for the contract, but the other 10 which are eligible to do so are: Accenture; Aire Logic; BJSS; Capita; Cognizant; Hippo Digital; Informed Solutions; Kainos; Mastek; and NetCompany.

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The NHS App allows users to book GP appointments, order prescriptions, set options for how their data is used, and register their wishes regarding organ donation. 

Having been launched on New Year’s Eve 2018, the app had very limited uptake for the first 15 months of its existence, during which time it was downloaded only 250,000 times: equating to around 0.5% of the potential user base, which comprises every GP-registered English citizen aged 13 and upwards.

By April 2021 – over a year into the coronavirus pandemic – adoption had risen to 2.5 million, as demand rose for remotely delivered healthcare services. The huge popularity of the NHS Covid-19 contact-tracing app, which attracted more than 30 million users, may also have helped increase sign-ups for the core NHS App.

The announcement that the NHS App – rather than the contact-tracing program – would be the primary means for citizens to obtain a vaccine passport was the catalyst for an enormous spike in the number of users: which now stands at 28 million.

With such a vast user base now on board, government plans to bolster to the app’s functionality over the coming months and years by offering new digital services allowing users to register with a GP, receive messages and notifications from their current GP and other clinicians, and view and manage hospital appointments. The program will also provide patients with access to a wider range of data, including offering “the ability to digitally request historic coded information including diagnosis, blood test results, and immunisations”.

By March 2024, the government hopes that such improvements will help grow the user base up to 75% of England’s adult population.


Sam Trendall

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