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Ian Cameron hears about the latest IT developments, including threats to GPs over choice, at the British Computer Society's conference in Cambridge

PCTs are threatening to deny GPs funding for IT equipment and to stop maintaining ageing computers unless their practice switches to a system favoured by the trust.

The growing pressure comes despite an agreement by ministers six months ago that GPs should have a free choice of computer system.

GPs and primary care IT experts have reported that PCTs are trying to force GPs to change so trusts can get extra funding from the Connecting for Health programme.

Local service providers for Connecting for Health are also determined to put in place a single computer system that spans primary and secondary care.

Ewan Davies, chair of the British Computer Society's primary health care specialist group, said PCTs were stopping short of explicitly denying GPs choice, but were using a variety of tactics to force practices to accept a favoured system.

He added that a lack of guidance for GPs on how to secure choice had encouraged trusts to adopt the policy.

Speaking at the group's annual conference in Cambridge he said: 'I am still seeing lots of pressure being applied. It's all very subtle but it's perfectly possible to push people in particular directions.'

He said pressure seemed to be greatest in the three northern 'clusters'.

Gordon Hextall, chief operating officer for Connecting for Health, admitted these clusters were aiming to develop a system that could be used across primary and secondary care.

Dr Andrew Green, chair of East Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire LMC, said GPs were being issued with 'hidden threats'.

He added: 'There's a great deal of pressure on GPs to lean towards the choice of the cluster, otherwise they will be starved of resources.'

Dr Paul Cundy, chair of the joint GPC/RCGP IT subcommittee, said many GPs' systems were near the end of their three-year life cycle. 'We all had new computers in 2000 and in the run-up to new contract.

'Systems that were adequate are beginning to crack at the seams but some PCTs are saying we are not going to upgrade because your system is not on the local service provider list,' he added.

Connecting for Health insisted free choice would become a reality in weeks.

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