Stuart J Mackintosh, Chairman of the UK Open Source Industry Association and Managing Director of OpusVL commented: “The current procurement process in the NHS often leads to proprietary lock-in, limited interoperability and excessive costs as it does not consider the option of free software where the bulk of the cost is for the professional wrap around services. In many cases, the proprietary agenda is in conflict with what is best for the organisation. The focus is on buying software rather than achieving an outcome and this often leads to disparate systems and information which is not joined up or able to scale. Although projects are state funded, licensing often prevents reuse for the rest of the public sector, unless further licenses are bought.”
Stuart's proposal is the use of a model which solves this by using a custodian to take ownership and control of the software and provide access to approved providers. This process creates communities which directly interface with software developers, users and patient groups. This model has been adopted and is successfully operated by Apperta, the NHS Open Source Foundation, which is providing a subscription-based service to bring the parties together and manage the relationships. He sees the future of NHS digital procurement as more collaborative and fit for purpose, ultimately delivering more value to the sector and expects that we will see more organisations like Apperta starting to appear in this space.
History shows that the public sector commonly invests in creating software but once built, has to pay again for licenses, then other departments also have to pay again, and the software is then owned by an external private company. Stuart believes that software itself should be considered as just a tool which supports the delivery of the outcomes, and emphasis should be placed on the process the system supports, rather than the software itself.
Stuart is presenting at Digital Catapult in London on June 6th as part of this year’s Digital Health Festival, which takes place between June 6-14. During the conference, he will help the audience understand how to approach professional free and open technologies and business models, procurement barriers and other related issues. He will be considering how this software can address the modern challenges faced within the sector and the benefits it brings.
He will also explain how procurement can be overcome by following this custodian model, which is compatible with open systems and standards for digital health and social care and removes the barrier between smaller but highly technical providers and large healthcare trusts.
This talk comes at pivotal moment for NHS Digital (formerly HSCIC) which is part of a wider sustainability and transformation programme throughout the sector. This includes high-level changes in the leadership of both NHS Digital and NHS England, and migration of the Code4Health programme to the newly formed NHS Digital.
As with any software, Open Source does not wear out or degrade no matter how many times it is used or copied, and funds should be directed at improving, innovating and progressing the applications, instead of purchasing updates and funding licensing, in some cases, replacing entire systems.
Stuart added: “By building communities in the NHS consisting of procurement managers, software developers, patient groups and custodians, we can start to implement and export Open Source software which improves processes and leads to enhanced levels of patient care. It will encourage suppliers to provide innovation and value rather than locked in contracts. That's the model that the modern NHS needs, and one which we are working to develop.”