Re: Hands firmly down here
An absolutely sound idea. I completely agree that all the Department of Health should mandate is an interoperability standard, and then let local units (Trusts / PCTs) get on with it. I also think that clinicians should be involved early on the vendor side during software design, and also on the purchasing side when selecting software features. Sadly, neither of these things happens very often.
The procurement process also needs to change. The whole tender process is just an expensive smokescreen formality. In reality, Trusts and PCTs have a preferred supplier in mind, then enlist that supplier's help to write the tender so that the tender naturally favours that supplier. At the moment tenders are so heavily based upon past experience, and shut out SMEs by requiring arduous policy documents and certification.
We applied to a tender for clinician facing software and were asked to submit 12 different policy documents ranging from Equality & Equal Opportunities Policy to Environmental Sustainability Policy. 70% of the marks in total were for past supplying of the NHS, yet the scoring system did not penalise companies that had failed to deliver on past contracts with the NHS. The most absurd thing about the tender process was a question asking us to list our company's "key personnel" and "relevant qualifications". My medical degree and 4 years medical experience counted for zero points, however an European Computer Driving Licence qualification would have scored much higher. How f**king stupid have you go to be to rank the latter above the former for software aimed at doctors?!
I disagree with your choice of proposed standard though, purely because a more modern, more versatile one exists. HL7 is not a full open standard, and is deficient in certain areas as healthcare has progressed. The NHS poured money into funding version 3 of HL7, but this to my understanding is now on ice and will never be released.
A much better standard to mandate adopton of is EN13606. This standard was conceived by academics with a specific interest in data interoperability, so is thoroughly well designed rather than HL7 which has been assembled piece-meal by US software companies. It is the only healthcare data standard which is fully open thus not requiring subscription to use it. Being more modern, it addresses some of the shortcomings of HL7 v3. It plays nicely with XML. What's more, EN13606 is backwards compatible with HL7.
So, yes we absolutely need a national interoperability standard and I strongly agree with you for that. My vote is for EN13606 (www.en13606.org).
Source: I'm a medical doctor (4+ years) AND a software developer (6+ years).