‘Technical error’ left suppliers ‘omitted’ from remote monitoring framework

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A “technical error” left some suppliers “omitted” from a procurement process designed to expand access to remote monitoring services once Attend Anywhere’s contract expires.

Crown Commercial Services (CCS), which is running the procurement for Spark Framework for NHSX, confirmed the error adding that it had been “identified and resolved” without affecting the planned timescale.

Suppliers have since been asked to resubmit their applications and will be “processed without disadvantage”.

“A technical error, which has been identified and resolved, led to a small number of suppliers being omitted from this NHSX procurement process,” a CCS spokesperson said.

“This issue will not affect the original procurement timescales and we expect to award in September. All suppliers are treated equally and will be informed of the outcomes at the same time.”

Digital Health News understands applications for the Spark Framework were due to close in June.

In March, Australian video platform provider Attend Anywhere was awarded a £4.8m one-year contract to help trusts bolster their remote consultation capacity during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The procurement on the Spark Framework is not designed to replace Attend Anywhere but instead widen providers access to remote monitoring and outpatient care systems.

But Digital Health News understands that Attend Anywhere has been “unreliable” and led to a “loss of confidence” among some providers.

Those unhappy with the system would be able to replace it entirely using suppliers appointed to the Spark Framework when the contract expires in March 2021.

Speaking to Digital Health News in response to the CCS error, Graham Kendall, director for the Digital Healthcare Council, said: “The most important thing now is to make sure that trusts have a rich choice of providers offering different solutions.

“That needs to move forward quickly, especially given trusts submitted their operational plans earlier this week about how to achieve the phase 3 [response to Covid-19] targets that must be met this month and beyond.

“Some trusts want to re-engineer their processes to build on the efficiencies of online consultations. Others want to focus on rapidly switching to video while maintaining existing processes.

“Different approaches require matching solutions, so if the service is to meet the stretching phase 3 targets then it’s vital they are able to choose the right video consultation solution to meet local needs, without too much prescription from the centre.”

‘Not completely worked’

The decision to appoint Attend Anywhere as the main provider of remote monitoring systems during the pandemic is one that blindsided other suppliers who say they weren’t given the opportunity to bid for the contract.

One source close to Digital Health said many suppliers, and even staff within NHSX, were “surprised” by the appointment given there were plenty of “capable providers” who’s systems were based on the objectives of the Long Term Plan.

They said “very little” had been published on future plans for the system.

Attend Anywhere has been piloted twice within the NHS, alongside the Covid-19 contract, but no evaluations have been published.

Another source whose trust is using the system told Digital Health it had “clearly not completely worked”.

“First and foremost it’s been unreliable. Too many periods of downtime leading to a loss in confidence,” they said.

“It was grown out of a contract for Scotland initially not re-platformed but then latterly set up on its own for England. This has clearly not completely worked, and sites are being restricted in terms of the number of sessions they can run.

“The second problem is that the links are difficult to deal with and though they can be added to websites, doctors are often dealing with patients who have not followed this process.

“They end up reading out long web links where they would expect to be able to take a number and SMS them straight from the app. This has frustrated service users.”

But some trusts have reported more positive findings using the system. In July Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust reported it had provided more than 10,000 appointments through Attend Anywhere in its first nine weeks.

More than 800 clinicians used the digital software to interact with patients across 131 of the trust’s services.

A spokesperson for NHS England denied issues with the system, saying it works at a 99% performance rate during core hours.

“Video consultations are proving to be invaluable in helping NHS trusts to provide care safely across acute, mental health, urgent care and other outpatient services, during Covid-19,” they said.

“Over 80% of trusts now have access to video consultations facilities, which is a level of coverage that far exceeds the goal we had set for this year and is expected to increase further, with early feedback showing that digital consultations are popular with patients as well as staff.”

They did not comment on whether the procurement through the Spark Framework was to help trusts to begin moving away from Attend Anywhere.

Kendall added that moving away from a “monopoly” supplier to a “dynamic and competitive” range would help the NHS make the most of expertise.

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