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GPs condemn £64m spend on e-booking

GPs have condemned the Government for spending £64.5 million on a new system for practices to book outpatient appointments electronically, while they continue to wait for GMS contract IT cash.

Under the National Electronic Booking System to be rolled out next summer, GPs will be expected to book 1.4 million initial outpatient appointments via their computer systems by the middle of 2005.

Health Secretary Dr John Reid said GPs will be given new software to enable them to offer a choice of four or five different hospitals at a time suitable to patients.

The system will be expanded in future to allow patients to book GP slots online and other primary care services such as patient transport and for practices to book hospital appointments for operations.

Speaking at the launch, Dr Reid said the system would make GPs' lives easier as well as patients'.

But the GPC said the Government had 'got its priorities wrong'.

Dr Paul Cundy, GPC IT sub-committee chair, said the £64.5 million was roughly the amount needed to reimburse GPs for IT in the new contract.

Primary care trusts have only been allocated £17 million so far.

He said: '[The Government] seems happy to spend £64.5 million on something that will benefit 10 per cent of patients ­ as 90 per cent of illness is dealt with in GP surgeries ­ but it won't spend the same amount of money on the system supporting the records of 100 per cent of patients.'

Patients are expected to change unsuitable bookings over the phone with national bookings services, on the internet or on self-service terminals in hospitals, rather than return to their GP practice.

But Dr Cundy said proposals for receptionists to assist patients with bookings were 'madness' unless practices receive extra resources.

Electronic booking plans

 · GPs to book all outpatient appointments electronically by summer 2005

 · Software to be given to all practices by summer 2004

 · System to be expanded to cover GP appointments, inpatient surgery and other primary care services

 · Plan for 1.4 million bookings in 2005, 12 million by 2006 and 17 million by 2008

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