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Government jumps gun on Summary Care Record roll-out

By Steve Nowottny

Government IT chiefs have drawn up plans to roll out electronic patient records across the country without waiting for an evaluation into the early adopter programme, Pulse has learned.

The BMA – which is awaiting the results of the independent evaluation before issuing guidance to GPs – reacted furiously to the revelations, insisting it knew nothing of the plans.

But a series of confidential Connecting for Health briefings obtained by Pulse set out for the first time the agency's blueprint for the rollout of the database.

According to one briefing, the agency's aim ‘is for every SHA to have one PCT and unscheduled care setting live by the end of summer 2008'.

However, the independent evaluation of the early adopter programme is not expected to report until the summer.

The Summary Care Record is currently being rolled out in five early adopter sites, with the briefing revealing that a sixth site, South West Essex PCT, will join shortly. A spokesperson for South West Essex PCT said patients were likely to start receiving letters by early April.

A wider national rollout is planned to begin later this year, and the leaked documents advise that ‘planning for next PCT deployments can begin in 2007/8, taking account of evaluation findings as soon as available'. A ‘ripple' deployment is planned initially, with the Summary Care Record being rolled out from early adopters to neighbouring PCTs.

Dr Gillian Braunold, clinical director for the Summary Care Record, denied that it was a ‘requirement' for every SHA to roll out the Summary Care Record by the end of summer, and said the briefing reflected ‘preliminary plans for post evaluation'.

She said: ‘The NHS has been asked to start planning for the deployment of the Summary Care Record based on some planning assumptions. That said, the output of the independent evaluation will be used to ensure that any lessons learned can be taken on board before Summary Care Records are made available throughout England.'

But BMA leaders expressed disbelief and anger. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, GPC negotiator, said:

‘I can't believe they actually mean what they seem to have said – it wouldn't seem logistically feasible.

‘We expect an evaluation to be reported and published and for that to inform any further rollout of the SCR programme. As far as we're concerned that's the process we believe is happening.'

Preliminary findings from the independent evaluation, led by Professor Trisha Greenhalgh, a GP and professor of primary care at University College London, are also included in the briefings. Although the Summary Care Record had so far received a largely positive reaction, ensuring genuine sign-up and good data quality was essential, it concluded.

Summary Care Records: the plan

- Aim is for one PCT and one unscheduled care setting in every SHA to go live with the Summary Care Record by the end of summer 2008

- Planning for the next wave of PCT deployments is already underway

- South West Essex will be the sixth early adopter site

- PCTs neighbouring the early adopters will be next - 'ripple' deployment

- Preliminary evaluation findings show good data quality essential

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