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Software provider defies Department of Health over ‘Tea at the Ritz’ and M&S voucher incentives for GPs

Exclusive: Leading GP systems provider TPP is offering ‘incentives' to GPs who host demonstrations of the company's SystmOne software – despite the Department of Health having been given ‘assurances' the practice would stop.

TPP this week announced that after a brief hiatus it has resumed its incentives programme which ran last year, and contacted practice staff offering them £25 Marks and Spencer vouchers in return for ‘a short slot' at practice manager meetings to demonstrate SystmOne.

The move comes despite CSC, the company which supplies TPP systems under the GP Systems of Choice framework, writing to the DH promising it would stop offering ‘gifts' to practices.

The DH wrote to CSC last July flagging up concerns over the incentives, which have previously seen GPs offered tea at the Ritz and tickets to West End shows. CSC's reply, obtained by Pulse, said: ‘CSC was not aware of such activities being undertaken by TPP and immediately entered dialogue with TPP. CSC can confirm that its subcontractor TPP will no longer be sending out letters to practices offering gifts in return for organising demonstrations of SystmOne.'

But TPP confirmed it has now resumed the incentives, in defiance of the DH.

‘We momentarily stopped offering the incentives over Christmas but will be resuming during February,' a TPP spokesperson said. ‘The incentives were offered only to GPs and practice managers and were completely optional.'

‘Our ‘Tea at the Ritz' offer actually costs considerably less than the cost of catering for such a practice meeting. We at TPP appreciate that GPs and their staff are extremely busy and so any thank-you gifts we offer staff are simply that, a thank-you for an hour or two of their time.'

A spokesperson for the DH said: ‘We have contacted CSC about TPP's position which is not in line with the assurances previously provided.'  CSC declined to comment.

The GP Systems of Choice framework agreement prohibits software providers from offering gifts to ‘any servant of the authority or a PCT'. But the DH confirmed that ‘this does not include GPs because they do not sign the framework', meaning suppliers can offer gifts to GPs directly without being in breach of the framework.

The incentives have divided GPs. Dr Charlie Stuart-Buttle, a former chair of the EMIS user group and a GP in Tonbridge, Kent, said offering incentives was ‘a pretty unacceptable way of going about things'.

‘It is certainly not how GP systems suppliers in the past 20 years have behaved,' he said. ‘The general feeling is "no, this shouldn't be happening".'

But Dr Trefor Roscoe, a GP in Sheffield and former medical IT consultant, said he believed offering incentives ‘wasn't a problem' as long as the GPs felt the system in question was worth demonstrating in the first place.