NHS £2bn digitisation programme delayed by a year with some trusts struggling to meet 2025 deadline

Government’s major projects agency moves programme’s confidence rating from amber to red, indicating delivery on time and to budget ‘appears to be unachievable’ as trusts report issues with EPR implementation

A £2bn programme to support the use of digital technology on the NHS frontline is to be pushed back by a year with a number of trusts indicating they cannot meet the current 2025 deadline for implementing electronic patient records.

The Frontline Digitisation programme also saw its budget reduced by more than £600m in the 2022/23 year, according to transparency information released by government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA).

The authority’s data says that the NHS characterises the aim of the scheme as “levelling up healthcare systems and providers to a baseline level of core digital capability… which enables frontline clinical staff to make best use of digital technology to deliver care efficiently, effectively and safely, reducing variations, and improving quality and outcomes”

The delivery confidence that programme can complete this work by the currently scheduled date of March 2025 has been moved from amber to red on the traffic-light system used by the IPA.

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This rating indicates that “successful delivery of the project appears to be unachievable [and] there are major issues with project definition, schedule, budget, quality and/or benefits delivery, which at this stage do not appear to be manageable or resolvable”, according to the authority’s recently published annual report, assessing the progress of 244 government major projects.

Data sets released by the IPA alongside the report reveal that the project has been moved into the highest tier of delivery risk “as a number of NHS trusts are reporting they are unlikely to be able to fully implement an electronic patient record (EPR) by March 2025”. 

“The Frontline Digitisation programme team is supporting each of these trusts to deliver as quickly as possible while maintaining the highest standards of patient care,” the IPA data added.

The NHS has indicated that it expects to meet the milestone target of 90% of trusts making the switch to EPR by the end of 2023, with a further 5% to do so by March 2025.

With 229 trusts across the country, this would equate to 10 to 12 organisations failing to complete the switch to electronic systems by the current deadline and requiring further support.

The major projects data reveals that the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care are currently working on “a revised business case to reflect a new programme end date of March 2026”.

“The programme continues to work to the existing cost parameters, with budget being reprofiled to cover the additional year to March 2026, to ensure financial support is available when needed for trusts who are unable to deliver by March 2025,” the data adds.

The project’s lifetime budget was reduced by almost £630m during the 2022/23 year – from more than £2.6bn to just under £2bn.

“This is primarily due to the… programme budget being reduced to support other NHS England priorities,” the IPA information reveals.

The digitisation initiative is forecast to deliver £29.8bn in benefits.

An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS is investing £2.3bn to ensure key parts of the NHS have the right digital foundations in place to share information so health and care staff can provide the best possible care to patients. We are working closely with the Infrastructure and Projects Authority to complete all the relevant recommendations from their report.”

Sam Trendall

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