An upgrade to the system supplied by Emis and used by 55% of GPs has created one of the most innovative IT products available to the NHS.
The ability to choose whatever compliant systems they want has been a major bone of contention among clinicians. Although Emis is the system of choice for the majority of primary care doctors, the company is still in negotiations to secure its products' future in the national programme.
A government representative has described Emis to a House of Commons select committee as a legacy system supplier.
The company said its upgraded systems allow patients to book appointments with their GP online. A successful trial involving 150 GPs last year showed that the system cuts administration time and can free up telephone lines.
The innovation means that Emis, which supplies software to about 55% of GPs in England, is providing a national online service in advance of the government's £2.3bn national prog- ramme.
One of the planned benefits of the NPfIT is the delivery of systems to allow patients to book hospital appointments online or via the telephone at a time to suit them. But the NPfIT has set no dates for when patients will be able to book appointments online with their GPs.
A spokesman for the NPfIT said, "The timing will be decided by consultation within the NHS during 2005."
In January, Emis announced that it was unable to sign contracts in their then current form with any of the local service providers that had been appointed to deliver the NPfIT.
The company said, "Emis is very supportive of the national programme, but cannot sign local service provider sub-contracts that are untenable," said the company.
Emis is in formal negotiations with local service providers and said it is confident its products and services will continue to be available as part of the NPfIT.