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Connecting for Health pledges to ensure GPs get free choice of system

Cost of switching IT system will be met

Practices that change clinical software providers after April next year will have most of the cost of migration paid by Connecting for Health.

Under new rules aimed at ensuring GPs get a meaningful choice of system, a fixed sum will be paid to practices moving between existing software pro-viders, such as EMIS and InPS. Any remaining costs should also be paid by PCTs.

However, GPs will have to move to a remotely hosted server, in a secure location away from the surgery.

Practices keeping their existing systems have also been guaranteed that upgrades, for electronic prescribing and GP-to-GP records transfer for example, will be paid for.

The change will bring to an end the situation where GPs

only get funding if they move to local service providers' preferred systems – The Phoenix Partnership (TPP) or Lorenzo.

This has led PCTs to refuse to fund upgrades or maintenance of GPs' systems and to put pressure on them to switch.

Under the original GP Systems of Choice deal, first promised two years ago, Connecting for Health had said migration costs between any systems compatible with the NHS IT programme would be paid in full. But this has proved impossible to implement and the new rules are seen as the only way forward.

Dr Gillian Braunold, joint GP national clinical lead for Connecting for Health, said the move was designed to prevent cynical 'gaming' of the funding rules by suppliers keen to get practices to use their products.

She said the decision had been taken to fund migrations to remotely-hosted systems as PCTs would save money by not having to maintain servers.

Dr Braunold said any costs over and above the fixed contribution should be paid by PCTs.

Dr Grant Ingrams, deputy chair of the GPC's IT subcommittee, said the move was positive but it was disappointing the level of the fixed contribution had not been set. He said: 'It gets us out of the doldrums.'

Dr Manpreet Pujara, chair of the EMIS national user group and a GP in Rochester, Kent, said Connecting for Health still appeared to be pushing GPs towards local service providers' systems. He said: 'I think it is a slight shift but it's nowhere near where it needs to be.'

The deal is still subject to approval by the Treasury.

Welsh GPs assured choice

GPs in Wales have been assured they will be free to choose between all major clinical IT systems and new entrants to the market.

The news is contained in a strategic framework for practice clinical software in the country, endorsed by the Welsh Assembly Government, the BMA and the RCGP.

The framework praised the development of GP IT as 'one of the medical informatics success stories' and concluded that competition and choice in GP systems were vital for its continued success.

It also called for a coherent structure for general practice IT in Wales in the light of the transfer of responsibility to procure, manage and maintain practice IT to local health boards.

Wales is not covered by Connecting for Health.

Dr Manpreet Pujara Dr Manpreet Pujara

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