Open Source Can Bring UK's NHS IT Back To The Future

Malcolm Senior | Government Computing | March 20, 2015

One year on from announcing that Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust had signed a contract with an option to implement the UK's first open source electronic patient record (EPR), Malcolm Senior, the trust's director of informatics, discusses the prospects of open source in the NHS

A confidence issue: In many respects open source software is not really understood within healthcare. A lot of people hear about it and imagine a teenager who downloaded a piece of code off the Internet. The lack of control and ownership of the code is seen as a risk to clinical safety. And they would be right - if that were the case. But the open source approach in the NHS is not new. In the 80s and early 90s, the health service used to write its own software, just as open source programmers are doing now. In-house programmers spoke to clinical and administrative colleagues, and developed software that would help them deliver more efficient care...

Open source can also provide trusts with opportunities to collaborate without fear that their efforts would be commercially exploited. It encourages the sharing of ideas. It fosters the development of new, customer-driven functionality, and - with the right governance - can help ensure the code is safe to use. I now sit on a board of an openMAXIMS Community of Interest Company (CIC) which was set up to provide this type of governance and support. Using elements of IMS MAXIMS software, we can now provide the same level of assurances as with a proprietary vendor.

For me, the decision by IMS MAXIMS to release its EPR code as open source to the NHS for free was a surprise. As the first supplier to do so, it was a very brave move. But now it means that customers - including our trust - can develop our knowledge, and can control and develop code like we have seen previously in the 80s and 90s...Our openMAXIMS EPR project at Taunton goes live later this year and we are very enthused by the benefits the software offers. If it proves to be successful, cheaper and it works, then other NHS trusts may well decide to choose the same route.