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Software problems jeopardise plans for repeat dispensing

Government plans to roll out repeat dispensing to all practices by next year are being threatened by problems with GPs' software.

Practices in the first wave of 30 repeat dispensing pilots which are using the EMIS system have found it will not work properly alongside new repeat dispensing software.

The problems have led some GPs to withdraw from the pathfinder programme. Others are still waiting to join the scheme ­ more than a year after the initiative was announced.

The repeat dispensing plans aim to cut GP workload by giving patients a prescription that can be dispensed in several episodes by pharmacists without the patient having to return to the surgery.

The Department of Health is looking to roll out the scheme nationwide by 2004 and has already invited bids to join the scheme from 40 more PCTs.

Karen Samuel-Smith, repeat dispensing lead for Newham PCT in east London said only four of 17 practices had the system up and running because of problems with the EMIS system. She said: 'Annoyed is a small word, I'm incandescent with rage.'

Dr Colin Judge, a GP in Bristol, said the practice spent almost a year preparing to become a pathfinder site only to withdraw a week before going live due to problems with the EMIS software.

Dr Judge said each time a date was entered into the repeat dispensing software it 'messed up' other dates elsewhere in the practice's computer system.

He added: 'We thought it was a good idea at first but I suppose like all pilot schemes, some work and some don't. This one clearly has problems.'

Mike Beaman, chief pharmacist for North Hertfordshire and Stevenage PCT, also confirmed problems with the EMIS system had held up the scheme in his area.

Practices using other systems appear to have been unaffected.

A Department of Health spokesman said EMIS had promised officials the problems would be addressed by mid-December. He added: 'We are aware that some of the ... pathfinder sites have experienced problems with the EMIS repeat dispensing upgrade and we appreciate the frustration that these problems have caused those affected.'

EMIS was unable to

respond.

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