Users of the most popular GP system are becoming increasingly frustrated with continuing uncertainty over their future upgrade path and maintenance under the £6.2bn national programme for IT in the NHS (NPfIT), according to GP Manpreet Pujara, chairman of the National Emis User Group.
GPs using systems from Emis, installed in about half of English practices, are concerned because it is not contracted to four out of the five NPfIT local service providers and will not be supported in those regions. Primary care trusts may continue to support these systems, but at their own cost.
In March 2005, health minister John Hutton said GPs would be offered a wider range of systems as part of the NPfIT. Eligible suppliers would include Emis, which signed a contract with CSC, the local service provider for the North West and West Midlands.
Gillian Braunold, clinical lead with Connecting for Health, which runs the NPfIT, and a member of the British Medical Association's GP committee, said the NHS was trying to get around a "road block" and was exploring options to provide good value for money for the NHS.
However, she added, "Because of the complexity of inter-trading agreements [between suppliers] it is hard to work out."
She said Connecting for Health remained committed to GP system choice and would solve contractual problems. "We are more or less there and are hoping to make an announcement in mid-February," she said.
Pujara said Connecting for Health had said several times before that an agreement was imminent. "Do I believe this? Not until I see some action," he said.
Until then, Emis users would continue to suffer uncertainty over future investment plans and maintenance supported by the local service providers, Pujara said.
A spokesman for Connecting for Health said, "Connecting for Health and the local service providers are committed to offering more choice of GP IT systems nationally. We are working collaboratively to reach an agreement to allow this to happen."
A spokesman for Accenture, the local service provider for the North East and Eastern regions of the NPfIT, said, "We have had discussions with suppliers and are working with NHS Connecting for Health to bring about a wider choice of GP systems."
GPs will be paid to use systems
As predicted in Computer Weekly in December, the Department of Health has agreed to modify GPs' contracts and pay them to use national systems. The department's Direct Enhanced Service will offer GPs £1.30 per patient to:
- Ready practices for national IT
- Connect to the GP-to-GP records transfer system
- Prepare practices for the electronic transfer of prescriptions
- Move practice systems to hosted servers.