Health minister Lord Warner has announced that GPs will have a choice of systems and will not have to deal only with companies that have signed contracts with a local service provider under the NHS national programme for IT.
The announcement implies that GPs will be able to keep their existing systems, if they want to, and still have them centrally funded, but the central business case for offering choice has yet to be agreed.
Warner's comments came after some GPs said they felt under pressure to ditch their systems and switch to those provided by the local service providers under £6.2bn worth of contracts with the Department of Health.
A departmental statement said said, "[Family doctors will] now have the option of using systems provided by either their local service provider, or from an approved set of GP system providers." Other systems, however, will "continue to be provided for under the aegis of the local service provider contracts".
Despite the announcement, health officials admit there is still some uncertainty over whether GPs will receive central funding for systems that are not among the products offered by local service providers.
At the Healthcare Computing conference in Harrogate last week, health officials conceded that central financing for a wide range of systems is subject to the approval of the business case, and this is not guaranteed.
"One of the things we have to do is get the business case approved," said a health official at a press conference at Harrogate to announce the GP Systems of Choice scheme.
If the scheme is approved, eligible systems will be funded centrally, in which case technology will be offered to GPs if it meets certain standards. "The standards become increasingly stringent to ensure that systems work properly will properly interwork with new NHS systems," said the department's statement.
Meanwhile, before the business case is approved - if it is - local service providers will be able to offer to GPs their own preferred technology which is already centrally funded.
This may persuade some GP practices to switch to them.