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At the heart of general practice since 1960

GPs in housing letters protest

GPs were aghast to read last week that they might have to change practice computer systems because of the current national IT programme ­ Ian Cameron examines the issues

The story so far

October 2002

·National Programme for IT launched.

October 2003

·GPs condemn Government for spending £64.5 million on the National Electronic Booking System rather than guaranteeing funds for practice IT upgrades.

August 2003

·NPfIT announces shortlists for national and local service provider contracts to run the NHS Care Records Service (centrally held electronic records).

·BT, IBM and Lockheed are in the running for the national contract. Accenture, BT, Cerner, CGEY, Computer Sciences (CSC), Fujitsu, IBM, Lockheed, Patient First Alliance, Plexus Care and SchlumbergerSema compete for the local service provider (LSP) contracts.

December 2003

·Problems emerge with practice IT funding. The NHS Alliance estimates a £24 million shortfall and dozens of practices report PCT reluctance to pay for computer upgrades.

·BT wins £620 million contract to set up and run the NHS Care Records Service and four out of the five LSP contracts are awarded: Accenture wins £1,099 million and £934 million contracts for the North East and Eastern clusters; CSC gets the £973 million North West and West Midlands contract; and BT gets the £996 million London deal.

January 2004

·EMIS announces it is unable to sign contracts with any of the LSPs because it would have to accept 'uninsurable risks and indeterminate penalties'.

·The Fujitsu Alliance wins the final National Care Records Service LSP contract, worth £896 million and covering the Southern region.

February 2004

·NPfIT awards BT £530 million contract to provide a new high-speed network linking 18,000 NHS organisations.

March 2004

·The GPC's IT sub-committee criticises the Government for failing to consult GPs over both electronic booking and the national patient record system.

April 2004

·GPs pour scorn on Government claims that its planned Choose and Book system adds just 36 seconds to consultations.

June 2004

·The NPfIT, which claims that 56 GP practices will begin booking hospital referrals electronically through Choose and Book during the summer, comes under heavy criticism from GPs. A source close to the programme tells Pulse the target of having all practices using Choose and Book by the end of 2005 is too 'optimistic'.

·LMCs pass motions criticising the NPfIT for 'impossible' timescales and failing to consult GPs.

·Richard Granger, director general of IT for the NHS, maintains GPs would retain choice over practice computers but adds that the programme would weed out those that are unsuitable.

July 2004

·EMIS launches a system enabling patients to book appointments with GPs via the internet.

August 2004

·GPs fear they will be forced to change their software after the NPfIT reveals that most GP IT systems will be replaced or integrated in LSP 'solutions' within two to five years.

·The Government admits that its target of offering all patients a choice of four to five providers at the point of referral through Choose and Book may not be practical.

September 2004

·The EMIS National Users Group launches a campaign to secure guarantees that GPs will not be forced into changing systems.

·Choose and Book pilots report technical problems and delays. The initiative is condemned by the RCGP for turning GPs into 'travel agents'.

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