The NHS has insisted it will stick to its guns and take a tough stance on key suppliers BT and CSC if they do not meet a delivery deadline for a workable patient records system.

Last week it announced a set of key metrics on which it will measure the suppliers, as part of the £12.7 billion National Programme for IT. This was an effort to make plain that simply switching on the systems will not be enough to prove workability. Analysts have questioned whether the suppliers will be able to demonstrate proof of scalability from their initial deployments.

An end of November deadline was set earlier this year for a workable patient system from the two suppliers, otherwise they could face termination.

One week after the new criteria were announced, both CSC and BT appear to be closing in on delivery. NHS Bury went live with the full version of its patient administration system this morning, and NHS Kingston plans to go live soon with a system from another supplier.

BT told Computerworld UK that it “expects to go live in the coming weeks” with the Cerner Millennium system. If it is rolled out in Kingston, as is understood, this would mark the first acute trust with BT systems to go live since an "improvement plan" was put in place earlier this year. The improvement plan was introduced after extensive rollout problems in other parts of London. Delivery at Kingston would be just ahead of the deadline.

CSC had not answered a query on its progress at the time of writing. But it has deployed an iSoft Lorenzo system at NHS Bury, which went live today, after missing a planned go live date last month.

Among the criteria set by the NHS is evidence that the suppliers have “capacity and capability” to deliver the systems on a large scale, across the NHS, by the 2015 programme end deadline.

It is also assessing whether all modules of each patient administration system are complete, as detailed in the supplier contracts.

The robustness and reliability of the products will also be judged. Each product “has to pass a series of tests”, the NHS said, covering individual modules and systems, their integration and readiness for operation, as well as scalability.

These additional criteria may become a sensitive area. It emerged last week that among the five early adopter trusts of the iSoft Lorenzo system, managed by CSC, there were only 174 registered users, a figure that CSC may have to significantly increase into demonstrate scalability.

Tola Sargeant, analyst at TechMarketView said, “At the moment, it is hard to argue that the £3 billion of contracts that CSC has with the Department of Health, the earliest dating back to 2003, are providing value for money on a per user basis. For the contracts to be considered a success usage would need to be in the tens of thousands.”

Back in June Sargeant said BT had the NHS “over a barrel” after it was able to negotiate a 50 percent growth in its contract value to £1.57 billion.

The NHS declined to comment on progress or its planned actions at the end of the month. But a spokesperson at the Department of Health said it was “important” that the NHS had made it “clear” how success will be judged.

“The end of November deadline was set in order to inject greater pace into delivering electronic patient administration systems in the acute sector,” the spokesperson said. “We have made clear that if the deadline is not achieved, we will consider a new plan for delivering informatics to healthcare.”