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Welsh GP practices face six-month delay to IT switch due to safety checks

Exclusive A major new IT provider due to be rolled out to GP practices in Wales has been forced to delay its introduction to ‘ensure the system is safe and stable’. 

Microtest, one of two IT suppliers recently approved by NHS Wales, was due to have completed switching 139 practices over to its system by this month.

But it has emerged that the supplier will be unable to move practices over to its system for at least another six months because it needs to complete 'additional testing’.

GPs have warned Microtest is an unsuitable provider and could ‘collapse’, creating ’numerous teething problems that impact on patient care’. 

Microtest disputed these claims, saying there was 'no risk of system collapse and/or data loss’. 

Microtest was selected in January to provide IT systems for GP practices in Wales alongside another IT company Vision, which has also experienced delays to system upgrades.

Previously, EMIS was authorised to provide IT for in practices in Wales, but its contract was dropped after it failed to meet a ‘large number of criteria’, according to BMA Wales. 

Around half of the GP practices in Wales were then forced to either switch to new provider Microtest, or existing provider Vision.

NHS Wales Informatics Service, which has overseen NHS IT services in Wales since 2003, sent a letter to all GMS practices last month to update stakeholders on the migration to the new systems.

In the letter from NWIS, dated 20 June, it said: 'We have very recently received notification from Microtest that there is a need to defer the first migrations for a further period.

'This is to allow additional testing to be undertaken to ensure the system is safe and stable for clinical and business practice, and that the functionality promoted at the roadshows is available for the first migrations. As such no practice will migrate until next year. Please be assured that all practices will be given six months’ notice of their planned migration dates.’

The FAQ document said: 'In order to ensure a safe migration for all practices it is anticipated that the implementations will continue past July 2020 and into 2021.’

Dr Alan Woodall, chair of GP Survival chair and a GP in Wales, warned Microtest was unable to cope.

He said: ‘This is a small company. If it’s going to be delivering almost half of practices in Wales, and it’s got to deliver their IT software 24/7, it’s going to have to massively expand and recruit to do that.

‘Most of us are very fearful that, even if they get it up and running, it’s going to collapse - with numerous teething problems that impact on patient care, let alone migrating data from EMIS to Microtest.’

He added that since the decision by NHS Wales to remove EMIS as a provider, 'we’ve had a rolling series of delays and failures in terms of the two contracts’.

'For those of us who are on EMIS moving to Microtest, this is a massive change and we’re now looking at delays of over 12 months and continually rolling and putting back all of these things,’ he said.

North Wales locum GP Dr Eamonn Jessup said Microtest needs to admit if it is unable to deliver the service.

He said: 'They really need to step up and answer if they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. They’ve done a very good marketing exercise. The majority of doctors when they looked at what Microtest was offering and what Vision was offering, they all went with Microtest in North Wales.’

Microtest told Pulse that the migration process was ‘scalable’ and that it would be switching two-thirds of practices using EMIS over to its own system, in addition to some currently using Vision - meaning it was handling a total of 139 practices out of around 400 in Wales.

Microtest managing director Chris Netherton said: ‘This adjustment to the plan is designed to enable the smoothest possible migration for GP practices in Wales and the best possible continuous patient care, which is of the highest priority.

'We are totally committed to providing a world-class clinical system to GP practices in Wales and throughout the UK as well as an outstanding level of customer service. This will help enable GPs to continue to provide excellent care to their patients well into the future.’

A Vision spokesperson said: 'Vision is fully committed to general practice in Wales and dedicated to providing our customers with the very best healthcare software and services on the market.

'We have invested in new advanced processes for data migration at scale, with the primary objectives of minimising downtime for practices and ensuring data quality, integrity and security. The delay is an unfortunate, but a necessary consequence that allows us to confidently achieve a reduction in downtime for all practices whilst assuring the high standards we have set.

'Similarly, the development of our next generation clinical system continues. Vision Anywhere is being developed at pace, with Vision 3 remaining our core, and well established, clinical system for Wales'

NB: NWIS was approached for comment and responded by sharing the letter sent to GP practices dated 20 June

Readers' comments (10)

  • IT company 'optimistic' about its abilities, successful in winning contract, but struggling(unable) to deliver on time(at all).

    Now where have we heard that story before...

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  • NWIS made a bad decision by excluding EMIS and continue to compound it by refusing to accept that both Vision and Microtest tenders were flawed in that they could not deliver according to the timings of the procurement cycle.

    The process should be halted and EMIS invited to re-tender.

    And there needs to be a public inquiry as to why NWIS rejected EMIS despite it fulfilling both English and Scottish requirements. Otherwise NWIS will continue to make the same mistakes without accountability.

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  • Thank you for your work Anvishka. I note the ominous silence of no mention or response from NWIS in your article - only Microtest. NWIS are the bigger problem here I suspect - they seem trapped into following a flawed procurement and unwilling to face what many of us increasingly feel was a serious mistake. I would be delighted for NWIS to comment here.

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  • Dear All,
    If i read the article correctly it is Microtest who have requested NWIS that in their opinion the changeover should be delayed? So this is a new supplier acting honestly and appropriately?
    Otherwise NWIS would have just raced ahead (and we all know what happens when NHS IT Managers think they know what they are doing with our systems!)?
    Come on Pulse you can do better then that.
    Paul C

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  • Have NWIS identified the problems with their procurement which resulted in excluding the most qualified products?

    Do they realise that these are problems, or are they framing them as opportunities?

    opportunity 1 to stimulate the market
    opportunity 2 to encourage innovation
    opportunity 3 to break general practice by enforcing a massive unnecessary change on an industry with no financial flexibility

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  • Interesting comment from Paul Cundy - is there more to this story than Pulse have given so far? Any comment from EMIS?

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  • It's not just Microtest.

    Vision offered those that chose it a "re-think" last year.

    And this is after NWIS had already rearranged the migration timetable.

    So both suppliers ran into trouble within months of being awarded the contract.

    Meanwhile the current version of EMIS is better than both systems that are due to replace it.

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  • I don't use emis but here in England it has a very good reputation in many practices. Why has it been pilloried in Wales. They should let practices stay on it and migrate at their own pace if they so desire. BEWARE managers forcing you to do something. It always ends in tears and they move those responsible to a new position and then deny any responsibility for the mess. Imagine if we behaved as badly as they do.....

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  • Well Ivery liked using Microtest systems as ergonomic. Back in the Fundholding era I saved £20,000 staff costs at the Fundholder's Support Agency as it was so much faster and slicker than three other system it replaced. The clinical Evolution product lets you get instant picture of the patient on first screen which I so miss on other systems. One "flaw" is that set to allow so much local preferences and customisation which great in the end but I suspect tedious to set up.

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  • Microtest was awarded contract in January 2018, not 2019, and before they had a system ready to deploy as demonstration.
    Vision was also unable to beat the current offering from EMIS at the time.
    EMIS were probably more honest up-front during the negotiations, about what computers (and software interacting across the ancient NHSwales systems) could actually do to meet the 'criteria', whereas other companies seem to have made rash promisses that they clearly could not keep.
    They were supposed to have everyone migrated before 1st April 2019!!!
    EMIS is still better. The current Vision system cannot handle drug allergies safely, for a start.

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