GPs' support for IT plan falls sharply, study reveals

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GPs' support for IT plan falls sharply, study reveals

Tony Collins
Enthusiasm among GPs for the health service's national programme for IT (NPfIT) has declined sharply, raising questions about whether their full commitment to the multibillion-pound project can ever be achieved.

A survey of 900 doctors by online polling specialist Medix, co-sponsored by Computer Weekly, has found that support for the national programme has "declined sharply" when compared to the results of previous polls. Only 2% of GPs rated their support for the NPfIT as "very enthusiastic".

The government has promised a £95m "reward" scheme which could be used to make financial payments to GPs to use new national systems, and it has announced a major publicity exercise this year to raise awareness of the benefits of the NPfIT.

But comments which accompany the survey show many clinicians think the NPfIT will not achieve its aims, and some believe it is doomed. More than 90% of doctors' comments were critical.

Clinicians are particularly concerned about the confidentiality of electronic patient records: 70% of GPs and 42% of non-GPs think the records will be less secure than current systems - although the NPfIT insists that the new systems are far more secure.

Only 2% of GPs think the records held in the new systems will be much more secure.

Support for the national programme is lower among GPs than other clinicians, Medix said, "Whereas the findings of past Medix surveys contained much to encourage the NPfIT, this is no longer true. Doctors' responses throughout this survey indicate a decline in support over the past year."

The results indicate a failure of the NPfIT's "back-loaded" communications strategy. Under this scheme, the NPfIT has deferred informing and engaging clinicians until it has working systems to show them. The survey found that only 16% of GPs and non GPs think this strategy is a good idea.

Jean Roberts, head of the British Computer Society's policy task force, said the national programme "has to be made to work" but she said the "lack of transparency" was a problem which was "alienating the professions".

She said throwing resources at the NHS will not solve the problems. Roberts called for a re-evaluation of the targets and a major push to involve end-users.

A spokesman for the NPfIT denied that it was too late to gain the support of GPs. He said, "Many, many GPs support the national programme and it is not too late to build wider support. The newly appointed clinical leads are working hard both to engage GPs and to influence the programme. They are confident and optimistic that their work will build support."

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