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GPs fight back over PCTs' IT bullying

By Steve Nowottny

Five leading GP user groups this week launched a national campaign backing the GP Systems of Choice initiative, warning that practices across the country are being bullied by PCTs into switching software systems.

The user groups claimed the problems were largely linked to the local service provider Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), with practices being put under pressure by PCTs into switching to TPP's SystmOne. The number of practices signed up to SystmOne has leapt by 200 in the last year, bringing the total number of users to 700.

Dr Charlie Stuart-Buttle, chair of the EMIS national user group and a GP in Tonbridge, Kent, said: ‘There are areas of the country with 80% or 90% EMIS Users, and PCTs are looking at trying to sweep those away and put a single new system in its place. In the CSC area there's a lot of pressure to push GPs over to SystmOne.'

PCTs have offered practices incentives such as priority for new computers, he said. ‘They're being nudged – or more than nudged in some cases – to go in that direction, without having a full idea of what else is available or what the implications are.'

Dr Ben Milton, a GP in Darley Dale in Derbyshire, who is in the process of switching to SystmOne, said that although his PCT had been ‘fantastically supportive', he had been disappointed with TPP and CSC. ‘The local service provider has certainly put pressure on the trust to persuade us to go over to the new system,' he said.

Under GP Systems of Choice, practices have the right to keep their existing system or choose from what will eventually be eight approved suppliers.

A CSC spokesperson said: ‘GPs have a choice of systems but are seeing the advantage of SystmOne as it works across many primary care settings.

‘CSC is working closely with SHAs and PCTs who are keen that practices make informed decisions about their choice of clinical system. This includes an awareness of CSC's applications in those practices not currently using SystmOne.'

But experts have raised concerns over whether SystmOne users will be able to send records via GP2GP to practices using different systems.

Dr Trefor Roscoe, a GPC member and a GP in Sheffield, but speaking in his capacity as an independent IT consultant, said: ‘GP2GP transfer isn't going to occur with the way it is at the moment. If a large number of practices move to TPP then there's going to be a large transfer of patients between GPs where we continue to get the paper printouts.'

CSC said the functionality to allow GP2GP transfers to practices using different systems was ‘currently in development'.

A Connecting for Health spokesperson said: "Decisions on the GP System of Choice are taken at a local level. NHS Connecting for Health is committed to providing choice for GPs in their IT systems of choice that help provide the best service possible for their patients.

"We are aware of a minority of cases where the issue of choice has been raised. We are satisfied that we have fully investigated such cases with the relevant parties and that practices are content with the outcome."

Dr Trefor Roscoe Dr Trefor Roscoe 'GP Choice' campaign

- launched this week by the EMIS, Vision, iSOFT, Microtest and Healthy National User Groups

- campaign writing to every practice using the five systems, asking them to visit website and report pressure to change system

- letters also going to SHA and PCT chief executives and influential MPs

- more information at www.gpchoice.org

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