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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Physician assistants prescribing plea

As GPs suffer a setback on computer choice, a pledge there will be no 'Hoovering' of notes ­ by Ian Cameron

GPs' fight to retain choice over practice computer systems has been dealt a blow after an influential primary care IT organisation argued the right should be stripped.

The Primary Health Care Specialist Group of the British Computer Society, which has close links to the National Programme for IT, said it could not support choice for individual practices.

At its annual conference last week, the society's chair Ewan Davies argued 'communities' of up to a handful of primary care trusts should use the same clinical software.

The stance is at odds with the GPC and GP user groups, who are seeking assurances from the national programme that GPs will keep the right to choose the system they want.

Mr Davies said having the same system across an area would avoid the need for retraining when locums or other staff moved within the region.

He added that quality points could more easily be earned and practices would benefit from joint training and co-ordinated management.

'GP choice at a practice level makes little sense, with a strong case for standardisation at the level of local health communities,' Mr Davies said.

'It doesn't make sense to preserve a single Healthy Software system in a Vision area and we would not stand up for the right of that practice [to maintain it].'

However, Mr Davies criticised the National Programme for IT's plans for one of two principal systems to be used across each of the five 'clusters' dividing England.

He said the benefits of community-wide systems did not get bigger by extending the size of the community.

GPs at the conference reacted angrily to the views.

Dr Mary Hawking, a GP in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, said the move would benefit only PCTs. 'It would see practices severely handicapped,' she said.

Dr Manpreet Pujara, chair of the EMIS National User Group, said it would be 'madness' to force a practice to ditch a compliant system just to fit in with its neighbours. 'Why not leave people alone if they are accredited?' he added.

Dr Gillian Braunold, vice-chair of the GPC IT sub-committee, said community-wide systems made sense if practices actively needed upgrades, but added the principle of GP choice should stand.

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