Systems must meet universally agreed requirements, says Kirsty Trigg
GPs are deeply concerned about the possibility that their existing IT systems are not going to be available to them under the new plan for local service providers (Computer Weekly, 21 September).
No one has the definitive answer on IT systems in the national health service but it is irresponsible not to provide solutions that everyone has confidence in.
It is of doubtful value to restrict the number of GP system providers to two, and the concept of "local" service providers is also cause for concern. This seems to be a half-hearted attempt at allowing competition. And having suppliers recommend different solutions for GPsystems every few years could lead to chaos.
We need to define what is really needed from these systems by working more closely with the doctors and other health professionals and support staff who already use such systems on a daily basis.
It should not prove difficult to consult these professionals in greater depth, as there are plenty of people who want to offer their opinions on the subject.
In software development we would refer to such a process as analysis and this should be the first phase in the development cycle. Because the proposed GP systems are specified to such a high level of functionality, to neglect this would be like car manufacturers offering luxury super-cars to people who can neither afford them nor want them.
Systems must be built to national requirements. It should be possible to define performance, stability and security requirements more rigorously for such systems, in conjunction with the British Computer Society.
We can then publish interface and performance requirements, which will specify the interaction of one system with another, and define what the software can do.
Software developers describe this as an application programming interface. Once these requirements are defined it is possible to write software that meets them, we can test the software and suppliers can be held responsible for meeting these requirements.
Once software has been held able to meet these requirements, there should be no reason why anyone at any level should be able to reject or accept them - they should be taken for granted. We could then have a national list of acceptable software systems.
This should help to remove the liability for defects from government and doctors, while helping to ensure that existing systems that meet the national requirements do not have to be phased out or replaced before this is really necessary.
Kirsty Trigg is a software developer with document management firm FileVision UK