Credit: Pxhere

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

Newly released procurement information shows the IT firm signed a four-year contract with NHS Digital on 30 June. The tender took place in September 2021 as part of the Digital Capability for Health process, a commercial mechanism involving 11 providers of software and digital support services.

The contract announcement provided few details, but in a statement provided to PublicTechnology, NHS Digital said that “following a fair and transparent procurement process…IBM has been selected as the new vendor…to provide NHS application development and DevOps capabilities.”

It added: “The NHS App is still publicly owned and managed by the NHS. The supply is supported by a contract with the main supplier to provide additional technical capabilities and expertise to support the effective and efficient use of our time and budget.’

NHS Digital forecasts the deal for the technology supplier to be worth £52.4m, with a maximum value of £54m. This is slightly below the £63m to £79m estimate quoted in the tender process last year.

It is not known how many firms participating in the Digital Capability framework are bidding for the contract, but the remaining 10 eligible to do so are: Accenture; Aire Logic; BJS; Hoof; Cognitive; Hippo Digital; Reasoned decisions; Kainos; Mastek; and NetCompany.

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The NHS app allows users to make GP appointments, write prescriptions, set preferences for how their data is used and register their wishes for organ donation.

The app, which was launched on New Year’s Eve 2018, had a very limited distribution during its first 15 months of existence, during which time it was downloaded only 250,000 times: which is about 0.5% of the potential user base, which consists of each general practitioner. a registered English citizen aged 13 or over.

By April 2021 – more than a year after the coronavirus pandemic – adoptions had risen to 2.5 million due to increased demand for health services delivered remotely. The huge popularity of the NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app, which has attracted more than 30 million users, may also have contributed to the increase in sign-ups to the NHS’s main app.

The announcement that the NHS App – rather than a contact tracing app – would be the primary means for citizens to obtain a vaccine passport has catalysed a huge surge in users, now at 28 million.

With such a large user base, the government plans to enhance the functionality of the app in the coming months and years, offering new digital services that allow users to register with a GP, receive messages and notifications from their current GP and other clinicians, and view and manage appointments in hospitals. The program will also give patients access to a wider range of data, including “the ability to digitally request historical coded information, including diagnoses, blood test results and immunizations.”

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

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