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Independents' Day

Government IT chiefs to give trusts millions to speed up Summary Care Record rollout

By Ian Quinn

Cash-strapped NHS chiefs are being offered millions of pounds by Connecting for Health if they agree to fast forward plans to roll out the Summary Care Record to all their patients.

The Department of Health's IT arm, which is desperate to achieve a critical mass for the under-fire strategy, is hoping at least four SHA's will launch rollouts early in the New Year, on the back of a deal for it to pay for the postage costs of sending out bulky information packs to patients.

Pulse recently revealed that in London all patients will be written to in the New Year and they will be given three months to opt out or automatically have Summary Care Records created for them.

The Department of Health hopes a similar blanket approach in other regions could lead to millions of patients having records created by the end of next year, to try to get the programme back on track.

Dr Gillian Braunold, clinical director for the Summary Care Record, said a sum of several million had been put aside by in a bid to persuade SHAs to take part.

Dr Braunold admitted that Connecting for Health was concerned that unless the pace of uptake was picked up, the target of having all parts of the country signed up to the project by the end of 2011 would end up looking hugely optimistic.

She admitted: ‘If we carry on at the pace we've been going we're not going to get there.'

But as well as London, North West, North East and East of England SHAs are now planning to launching a blanket rollout as soon as January, with Connecting for Health's offer to pay for the mail out costs expiring in March.

Other SHAs, however, have rejected the approach and are pressing ahead with much slower isolated rollouts in pilot practices, which could lead to some parts of the country being left way behind others.

Dr Braunold said the information packs sent to patients, which will be standardised across the areas and include the option for patients to opt out, were vital to the success of the campaign, as ‘letters alone are not enough'.

As well as trying to win over SHA's with promises of cash towards marketing the system, NHS IT chiefs, who face a backdrop of Government plans to axe the NHS IT budget, as well as Tory proposals to privatise services, have been trying to win the hearts and minds of GPs.

The organisation met with BMA leaders and chiefs from 29 of the 32 London LMCs recently to talk about developments in the project, including improvements in IT compatibility.

At the event 41% of the 146 who attended voted that the summary care record would be very useful, 43% said it would be ‘moderately useful', 13% said it make ‘little difference' and 3% said it would be ‘dangerous'.

However, more than 70% said they did not trust the Government with their data.

Dr Phil Koczan, clinical lead for the London Programme for IT, and a GP in Chingford, said he believed grassroots GPs were now more skeptical about the rollout than their leaders.

This seemed to be backed up by a poll on doctors network, which asked if Chancellor Alistair Darling was right to cut back on NHS IT spending.

Of those responding, including 140 GPs, 76% called for drastic cuts to the budget.

One said: 'This unbelievably expensive IT project has little proven benefit for doctors or patients, but has been steamrollered along despite significant opposition from those who realistically fear lack of security.

'The public, who have been told only of the putative benefits and none of the likely disadvantages, were to be sold this scheme on the basis of apathy, with the expectation that few would bother to make the effort to opt out.

'I am heartily relieved that we are to be spared any further intrusion and expense by the cancellation of the project.'

Summary care record

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