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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Computing confusion may threaten contract start-up

By Ian Cameron

Hundreds of GPs face not being able to implement the contract next April amid mounting confusion over funding to replace their old computer systems.

Around 450 practices need to replace systems which are not equipped to deal with the requirements of the contract at a cost of £50,000 a time.

The Department of Health has promised GPs will not have to pay for the upgrades but has not yet revealed where the £22.5 million will come from.

GPs have reported PCTs are refusing to give the go-ahead for practices to replace their system because they fear they will have to pay for upgrades from their unified budget.

Avon LMC said 15 practices in one of its PCTs were still waiting for new computer systems and had heard nothing from the trust.

PCTs in the region are already £1.5 million underspent on enhanced services next

year because of multi-million pound hospital debts.

Steve Mercer, Avon LMC's chief executive, said the situation was 'confused' and GPs were sceptical they would get 100 per cent reimbursement.

'I'm having to write to the PCT. If it confirms they are not paying to replace the legacy systems I shall report it to the GPC,' he said. 'When you are £80-90 milion in debt in the Avon/Gloucestershire/ Wiltshire area and are trying to fund a £46 million debt in one hospital, an extra £750,000 is a huge amount to find.'

Trusts were given £20 million in October to help them take on 100 per cent reimbursement of GPs' IT but this only covered minor upgrades and maintenance.

Mr Mercer added the continuing delays meant even if practices get the equipment their contact planning will be severely hampered by the long delay.

Dr Paul Cundy, chair of the GPC's IT sub-committee, said parts of the NHS IT programme would be jeopardised if the old systems were not replaced.

'We are seeking clarification on where the money is for legacy systems,' he said. 'It's peanuts compared with what is being spent on the Integrated Care Records System.'

The Department of Health said legacy systems would be replaced 'after local consultation and a local decision'.

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