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Ian Cameron reports on John Hutton's attempts to defend the Government's record on primary care in a Commons debate

Practices should be stripped of their right to choose their computer system, health minister John Hutton has told MPs.

Despite denying that the Government planned to restrict GPs' choice of system, Mr Hutton said IT decisions should be made at 'community' level.

He added that development of GP systems had been 'piecemeal and with no strategic vision' in the past and new software had to meet the requirements of the National Programme for IT.

Mr Hutton's comments came in a wide-ranging and often heated Commons debate on GP services during which MPs attacked the Government's record and questioned its future primary care policies.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley accused the Government of 'failing to express their appreciation for the the central role of the family doctor service' and being in denial about the problems of NHS Direct and walk-in


He added that the National Programme for IT had failed to consult with GPs and not shown how it would 'deliver the service and functionality GPs require'.

In response, Mr Hutton said local service providers to the national programme had been told no GP should be forced to change IT systems and individual practices should be supported if they choose not to adopt new software in the short term.

'It does not mean that all the systems that are currently providing value will be scrapped. Similarly, it does not imply a wholesale replacement of one primary care system by another,' he said.

On the question of EMIS users, Mr Hutton said he would 'prefer' the company to be part of the national programme and the company was working to make its systems compliant.

Mr Hutton accused the Conservatives of harking back to a 'Dr Finlay' era and said its complaints about the Government's primary care policies 'could not be justified by the facts'.

Conservative motion

That this House...

·Places the highest importance on the role of GPs

·Regards this service as the lynch-pin of NHS primary care services

·Appreciates that GPs are best placed to provide care for patients and manage care of those suffering from chronic diseases and co-morbidities

·Is concerned by the continuing level of GP vacancies and workload pressures

·Deplores the failure to maintain the out-of-hours service as a GP-led service

·Regrets the Government's devaluation of GPs' role in favour of an emphasis on diverse means of access to the NHS

·Calls on the Government to ensure NPfIT delivers choice of suppliers

·Further regards the abandonment of GP fundholding as a severe misjudgment and urges its reintroduction

·Believes GP-led commissioning, alongside increasing patient choice, offers the best means of delivering an effective NHS

Government alternative

That this House...

·Welcomes the increase in GP numbers

·Supports the expansion of primary care provision through walk-in centres and NHS Direct

·Acknowledges the progress made on the NPfIT

·Welcomes the new arrangements for the NHS out-of-hours services, which improve GPs' quality of life

·Supports the introduction of practice-based commissioning and believes it will deliver improved patient care

John Hutton on...


'It is not my argument today that every problem facing our family doctor services has been solved'

...walk-in centres

'They fill a gap that needed to be plugged'

...fundholding vs practice-based commissioning

'Fundholding discriminated against the patients of practices that chose not to take it up and spawned a giant bureaucracy. We will not repeat those mistakes'


'We are acting to preserve choice for GPs, but it is absolutely right and proper to ensure those choices support the objectives of the national programme'


'I do not believe the new contracts devalue the role of doctors working in primary care. Quite the opposite is the case because they properly reflect the hugely important role that doctors play'

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