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Welsh GP practices face six-month delay to IT switch due to safety checks

Exclusive A major new IT provider due to be rolled out to GP practices in Wales has been forced to delay its introduction to ‘ensure the system is safe and stable’. 

Microtest, one of two IT suppliers recently approved by NHS Wales, was due to have completed switching 139 practices over to its system by this month.

But it has emerged that the supplier will be unable to move practices over to its system for at least another six months because it needs to complete ‘additional testing’.

GPs have warned Microtest is an unsuitable provider and could ‘collapse’, creating ’numerous teething problems that impact on patient care’. 

Microtest disputed these claims, saying there was ‘no risk of system collapse and/or data loss’. 

Microtest was selected in January to provide IT systems for GP practices in Wales alongside another IT company Vision, which has also experienced delays to system upgrades.

Previously, EMIS was authorised to provide IT for in practices in Wales, but its contract was dropped after it failed to meet a ‘large number of criteria’, according to BMA Wales. 

Around half of the GP practices in Wales were then forced to either switch to new provider Microtest, or existing provider Vision.

NHS Wales Informatics Service, which has overseen NHS IT services in Wales since 2003, sent a letter to all GMS practices last month to update stakeholders on the migration to the new systems.

In the letter from NWIS, dated 20 June, it said: ‘We have very recently received notification from Microtest that there is a need to defer the first migrations for a further period.

‘This is to allow additional testing to be undertaken to ensure the system is safe and stable for clinical and business practice, and that the functionality promoted at the roadshows is available for the first migrations. As such no practice will migrate until next year. Please be assured that all practices will be given six months’ notice of their planned migration dates.’

The FAQ document said: ‘In order to ensure a safe migration for all practices it is anticipated that the implementations will continue past July 2020 and into 2021.’

Dr Alan Woodall, chair of GP Survival chair and a GP in Wales, warned Microtest was unable to cope.

He said: ‘This is a small company. If it’s going to be delivering almost half of practices in Wales, and it’s got to deliver their IT software 24/7, it’s going to have to massively expand and recruit to do that.

‘Most of us are very fearful that, even if they get it up and running, it’s going to collapse – with numerous teething problems that impact on patient care, let alone migrating data from EMIS to Microtest.’

He added that since the decision by NHS Wales to remove EMIS as a provider, ‘we’ve had a rolling series of delays and failures in terms of the two contracts’.

‘For those of us who are on EMIS moving to Microtest, this is a massive change and we’re now looking at delays of over 12 months and continually rolling and putting back all of these things,’ he said.

North Wales locum GP Dr Eamonn Jessup said Microtest needs to admit if it is unable to deliver the service.

He said: ‘They really need to step up and answer if they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. They’ve done a very good marketing exercise. The majority of doctors when they looked at what Microtest was offering and what Vision was offering, they all went with Microtest in North Wales.’

Microtest told Pulse that the migration process was ‘scalable’ and that it would be switching two-thirds of practices using EMIS over to its own system, in addition to some currently using Vision – meaning it was handling a total of 139 practices out of around 400 in Wales.

Microtest managing director Chris Netherton said: ‘This adjustment to the plan is designed to enable the smoothest possible migration for GP practices in Wales and the best possible continuous patient care, which is of the highest priority.

‘We are totally committed to providing a world-class clinical system to GP practices in Wales and throughout the UK as well as an outstanding level of customer service. This will help enable GPs to continue to provide excellent care to their patients well into the future.’

A Vision spokesperson said: ‘Vision is fully committed to general practice in Wales and dedicated to providing our customers with the very best healthcare software and services on the market.

‘We have invested in new advanced processes for data migration at scale, with the primary objectives of minimising downtime for practices and ensuring data quality, integrity and security. The delay is an unfortunate, but a necessary consequence that allows us to confidently achieve a reduction in downtime for all practices whilst assuring the high standards we have set.

‘Similarly, the development of our next generation clinical system continues. Vision Anywhere is being developed at pace, with Vision 3 remaining our core, and well established, clinical system for Wales’

NB: NWIS was approached for comment and responded by sharing the letter sent to GP practices dated 20 June