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The National Programme for IT is claiming it will take GPs only one minute to offer patients a choice of hospital, appointment time and consultant via its Choose and Book initiative.

In a statement derided by GPs,

the programme said implementation of the controversial service would have 'minimal' impact on GP workload.

The national programme added that its own 'informal' research had found GPs made 'fewer than five' referrals a week.

By stopping patients having to return to practices to chase up hospital appointments Choose and Book had 'significant potential' to save GPs' time, the national programme said.

GPs immediately mocked the claims and said implementation of the initative would cause a huge increase in their workload.

The GPC has already advised GPs not to participate in the scheme, which is due to be up and running throughout England by the end of next year, unless it is funded as an enhanced service or through the contract.

Dr Prit Buttar, who attended a recent local Choose and Book implementation group for Oxfordshire LMC, said the one-minute claim was 'simply untrue'.

'This is so far from reality,' he said. 'The NHS has more chance of landing a man on the moon.'

He said his practice in Abingdon made on average nine referrals per partner per week.

Even adding just one minute per referring consultation would require an extra 33 hours of doctor time per year in his four WTE practice alone, he said.

'What do they want me to stop doing while I do this?' Dr Buttar said.

Dr David Bevan, clinical choice lead for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire stragetic health authority and a GP in Upwell, Cambridgeshire, said it took far longer than a minute merely to give a patient a unique number to quote when ringing a call centre.

Dr Bevan took part in research earlier this year that concluded Choose and Book would add just 36 seconds to a consultation.

'Having had access to the Department of Health's booking demonstrator I am at a loss to understand how you can arrive at a booking number for the patient in one minute,' he said. He added that the timescale for full implementation of Choose and Book was likely to be delayed because of IT compatibility.

By Ian Cameron

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