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Broadband speeds at their surgeries test GPs' patience to the limits

GP work slows to crawl

GPs' work is suffering because they are having to contend with slower broadband speeds at their practice than they can get at home.

Many practices are running several computers off 1MB lines via the new N3 national network – the replacement for NHS Net – supplied by BT.

The low bandwidth means GPs are often facing delays when they want to do simple tasks such as opening e-mails and searching the internet.

BT and Connecting for Health have pointed the finger at PCTs for failing to set up local systems properly so that core tasks done by GPs are prioritised.

Dr Paul Cundy, chair of the GPC IM&T subcommittee, bran-ded their excuses 'nonsense' and called for all practices to have 8MB lines. He said: 'Within a matter of days you can order for your home an 8MB connection which costs £20. It is monstrous that the NHS is unable to provide the equivalent.

'Whether it is the BT bit of the wire or a socket in the ground or the router in my surgery is irrelevant.'

Dr Cundy added: 'They are responsible for providing a service in our surgeries and if they can't manage the various links of that service then they are clearly not competent.'

Dr Stephen Meech, a GP in Maidstone, Kent, said national systems such as Choose and Book, which GPs might use for five minutes twice a week, hogged the line and slowed down the rest of the system.

'It makes it very slow and frustrating,' Dr Meech said. 'You are used to having 2MB at home and you get to work and the whole thing slows down to a crawl.'

Under BT's 'catalogue' of services for Connecting for Health the 1MB speed would be standard for many practices.

PCTs almost certainly would have to pick up the cost of an upgrade, which has been reported at as much as £30,000. Both BT and Connecting for Health said most GP surgeries were not using the bandwidth available to them and PCTs were at fault for not prioritising usage.

BT said: 'N3 is running to specification. The vast majority of customers will be able to upgrade to 2MB for a fraction of £30,000 over three years.'

A spokeswoman for Connecting for Health said: 'We are not aware of any issues regarding speed of connection that can be explained with reference to N3.'

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