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GPs told: 'You have no choice over IT system'

PCTs ignore Government promise to give practices clinical software options

A Government promise 10 months ago to give GPs a genuine choice of IT system is being openly flouted by PCTs.

Trusts across the country are threatening to withdraw funding and maintenance support from practices unless they switch to their favoured clinical system.

PCTs are being allowed to get away with the tactics because the NHS National Programme for IT has still not amended contracts with its local service providers to force them to support all systems.

Faced with intense pressure to keep costs in the £6.2 billion scheme down, the providers are telling PCTs they will only fund the ones they have developed.

The debacle is the latest to hit Connecting for Health, which runs the national programme. It has suffered a collapse in GP support as a result of problems with Choose and Book and doubts over the National Care Record.

GPs singled out Accenture, which runs the North-Eastern and Eastern geographic 'clusters', as the prime culprit in denying choice.

Dr Andy Lee, a GP in Scunthorpe running EMIS, said Accenture had given GPs the clear impression at a presentation last week that they had only one option ­ its SystmOne software.

He said: 'Accenture was adamant everyone will have to change to a single system and there will be no choice. The message was clearly ''Resistance is futile ­ you will be assimilated''.'

Dr John Grenville, chair of Derbyshire LMC, which falls under the Eastern cluster, said some practices 'with systems about to fall over' had been told by PCTs that SystmOne was their only option.

Ewan Davies, chair of the British Computer Society's primary health care specialist group, said the problem was widespread, but most acute in PCTs served by Accenture.

GPs were 'in the worst possible situation', he added. 'GPs are being told by junior people this is their only choice.'

Hounslow LMC has also lodged a dispute with the GPC on behalf of 18 practices being denied server upgrades.

Hounslow PCT, which has BT as its service provider, has told the GPs they will only get them if they switch from EMIS to the Vamp system.

Dr Paul Cundy, chair of the GPC IT subcommittee, said he hoped the outcome of the case could be used to help in other areas. He said: 'This is getting much more widespread.'

A spokesman for Connecting for Health said commercial issues had to be resolved with providers.

Accenture said it offered a choice of SystmOne or iSoft's Synergy, but some PCTs had made 'group decisions' to offer only one option.

I will keep what I've got

Dr Andy Lee is adamant he will not succumb to pressure to ditch his EMIS system ­ despite being told by Accenture that it was only a 'theoretical option' and he would have to switch to its SystmOne offering.

He said: 'They were saying that although the ministerial announcement was made and EMIS had the agreement, in practice it had not been concluded, and even if it had you will be so far down the waiting list.

'But we intend to sit tight. We have a system that works well. '

Dr Lee, a GP in Scunthorpe and former medical director of NHS Direct, added that he did not accept 'glib assurances' about how much more resilient the new systems were. 'I'm not anti-SystmOne. It's perfectly usable but changing from one system to any other will have implications.'

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