NHS information exchange backbone rebuilt and upgraded

11 September 2014

NHS Spine, a set of applications, services and directories that underpin information exchange across the NHS in England, has been successfully rebuilt in a project led by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

More than a dozen national IT systems and services were migrated to the new Spine in the space of a weekend following months of rigorous planning, testing and development. These include the Electronic Prescription Service, Summary Care Record, Choose and Book, and Demographics services. Thousands of care organisations, health professionals and patients in England who rely on the NHS Spine were able to securely access its systems and services during a major transition to a new technologically advanced version.

Built in-house by the HSCIC in collaboration with agile software specialists BJSS, the new Spine has been supported by a number of smaller specialist firms, including open source experts Basho. HSCIC says the system is now more flexible and represents a design step change away from the earlier centralised product.

HSCIC chief executive Andy Williams said, “We have harnessed the latest technology to rebuild the most important NHS electronic system, built over 10 years ago and today relied upon by hundreds of thousands of health staff and patients every single day. Of equal importance is we have ensured value for money – by bringing the system in-house the day-to-day running costs are set to fall substantially.

“Rebuilding such a massive and integral system was a huge challenge, not least in ensuring more than 20,000 organisations and the many thousands of people who rely on the system were able to continue accessing the Spine during the transition with minimal disruption. I am delighted that the HSCIC, supported by the commitment of several other organisations, has achieved this.”

HSCIC Director of Operations and Assurance Services Rob Shaw said, “The new Spine has been built using an agile approach, which means it is responsive to the changing requirements of patients, health professionals and the NHS as whole. As services develop we can change or add new ones quickly and without impact on other parts of the system.”

“We carefully planned a phased approach to move to the new system, in order to minimise disruption over the transition weekend and ensure patient care was delivered throughout. We avoided a “switch off switch on” approach, which would have led to a complete gap in critical NHS services like out-of-hours care, several ambulance services and NHS 111.”

The HSCIC is now supporting suppliers and users with the next planned phase of transition, which involves closely monitoring all Spine services and systems and providing assistance to resolve any issues.

Some statistics on information exchange over the Spine, from HSCIC:

  • Connects and services more than 21,000 organisations and links over 27,000 ICT systems within these organisations;
  • Provides a single consistent source of demographic data for 80 million patients. Information is requested and amended more than 2.6 billion times a year;
  • Has enabled over 42 million Summary Care Records to be created and stored;
  • Records processed by the DBS (demographic batch tracing service) currently runs at c.50m per month;
  • Has transmitted over 1.3 billion EPS prescription messages and 50 million EPS dispense notifications;
  • Has enabled approximately 2,500 new smartcard user registrations per week;
  • On average delivers over 77,000 GP2GP transfers a month (average taken over a six month period).

Harry Wood


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