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GPs question IT funding guidance

By Rob Finch

PCTs must fund GPs' servers, computers and printers, according to new Government guidance detailing the IT service practices should expect as a result of the new contract.

The Department of Health guidance, which is aimed at ending disputes between GPs and PCTs, specifies that severs and computers must have sufficient memory and storage capacity to meet 'immediate and foreseeable requirements'.

PCTs must also provide virus protection and back-up devices and are responsible for maintaining networking equipment for connecting main and branch surgeries to each other and the internet.

The guidance warns trusts these are all core components and they must 'meet purchase, maintainance and upgrade costs in full'.

It also contains exhaustive recommendations for maintaining service levels and response times PCTs must meet when alerted to different types of problems of varying severity. It advises a first point of contact through a dedicated helpdesk.

GPs welcomed the guidance and the fact they can claim for compensation if they suffer demonstrable financial loss if services miss targets.

But they raised concerns that PCTs could flout the guidance as it is not a binding service level agreement. PCTs may also be unable to afford service specifications, GPs said.

Dr Paul Cundy, chair of the GPC IT subcommittee, said the guidance was late, out of date and 'far from perfect'. He add-ed: 'The department hasn't really come up with the goods as it's not a service level agreement. '

Dr Manpreet Pujara, chair of the EMIS national users group and a GP in Rochester, Kent, said GPs could lose out if service levels stated in the guidance were lower than what trusts were already offering.

He was also concerned at no longer being able to call computer engineers direct from his practice.

He said: 'It's guidance ­ there is no way PCTs have to do what it says and some will take it as a bottom line. It's good that it's out but there are lots of flaws.'

One PCT IT manager, speaking on an open internet forum, described proposals for PCTs to run a helpdesk as a 'backward step' and said much of the service level recommendations were unaffordable.

Roz Foad, IM&T service manager for Hertsmere, and St Albans and Harpenden PCTs, said: 'We are expected to offer compensation for missing a service level, we have no money for this.'

What should your PCT provide?

Clinical system servers and workstations ­ fit for purpose and sufficient memory and storage capacity

Printers ­ must enable printing of prescriptions and other documents

System management ­ virus protection, back-up, restore and verification devices

Clinical applications ­ core software and associated applications and licenses, knowledge bases and dispensing system

NHSnet and the internet ­ connection and usage including firewall and e-mail

Network ­ agreed branch surgery connections and uninterruptible power supply routers and equipment, cabling and storage

'This list is not exhaustive and PCTs and practices are expected to apply common-sense when considering items not included' ­ Department of Health guidance

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