By Steve Nowottny
PCTs are forging ahead at a rapid pace with the Summary Care Record rollout, in a desperate bid to reach critical mass before the looming Government review of the programme, Pulse can reveal.
New figures show that despite the BMA's demand for uploading of all records to be suspended for patient safety reasons, there has been a major surge of activity by PCTs since the election.
The figures, which follow Connecting for Health's decision to pump millions towards the cost of funding PCTs rolling out the system, emerged as the Government announced today that it plans to slash spending on NHS IT by £700m, on top of the £600m savings announced by Labour.
However, it also announced that another controversial IT initiative, Choose and Book, would survive the cull, hailing it a ‘success'.
A separate review of the Summary Care Record is due to report later this month and Pulse has already revealed that ministers are planning to scale back the national funding of the programme, which it wants to be more-locally led and open to alternative providers.
However, despite huge ongoing hostility among many GPs and widespread speculation that it will be scrapped altogether, Connecting for Health said more than 400 practices across at least 36 PCTs in England had now begun uploading records.
Separate figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that 44% of the practices began uploading since May.
In July, the BMA called for the immediate suspension of all uploading over fears that patients had been put at risk by out-of-date records.
But an investigation by Hampshire GP and IT campaigner Dr Neil Bhatia reveals that in the hiatus since the coalition Government took office in May, 188 practices across the country have pushed ahead.
Connecting for Health says in total 2.7 million Summary Care Records have now been created at 424 GP practices across the country, with almost 30 million patients having been written to alerting them that they will have a Summary Care Record created for them unless they choose to opt out. Figures also reveal the rate of patients choosing to opt out has risen to almost 1%, up from around 0.6% at the start of May.
Dr Bhatia said: ‘I think many are concerned that CfH is pursuing a "scorched earth" policy to try to ensure that the Summary Care Record is continued without any change, no matter what the BMA, LMCs and very many GPs think.'
‘However, the numbers are still very low. The question is will PCTs and then the GP consortia continue to see the Summary Care Record as a priority with the current economic climate and the demise of Connecting for Health to all intents and purposes?'
The Department of Health said in a statment today that it will switch instead to a ‘more locally-led plural system of procurement' for IT and a ‘connect all' rather than ‘replace all' strategy.
Health minister Simon Burns said the National Programme for IT ‘has delivered a national infrastructure for the NHS, and a number of successful national applications such as Choose and Book.'
He added: ‘Improving IT is essential to delivering a patient-centred NHS. But the nationally imposed system is neither necessary nor appropriate to deliver this.'
‘The remaining work of the programme largely involves local systems and services, and the Government believes these should now be driven by local NHS organisations.'
GPC negotiator Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: 'Giving NHS organisations more choice of IT systems makes sense, but we also need to be aware of the problems that could arise from a more localised approach.'
'There still needs to be some central accountability to ensure consistent and equitable delivery, manage local implementation, avoid wasteful duplication of effort, and support local decision-making. For example, a nationally accredited list of systems would be helpful.'Health minister Simon Burns: Nationally imposed IT system 'neither necessary nor appropriate' Health minister Simon Burns: Nationally imposed IT system 'neither necessary nor appropriate' The Summary Care Record in figures
No of practices uploading records as of May 2010 - 236
No of practices uploading records as of September 2010 - 424
No of Summary Care Records currently created - 2,704,404
No of patients contacted - 29,803,669
Percentage of patients contacted who have chosen to opt out - 1%