Plans for a new primary care information system have been approved by the Department of Health, but HSJ has learned that GPs have secured the right to opt out of the scheme.

The NHS Information Centre announced yesterday that procurement for the GP Extraction Service would begin next month, after the DH’s procurement, investment and capital division signed off the “appointment business case” for the project.

The system will enable the Information Centre to extract coded clinical data from otherwise incompatible GP computer systems, standardising it to enable statistics to be pooled nationally.

As previously reported by HSJ, GPES is expected to go live in September 2012. The service will be used to support the Quality Outcomes Framework for GP performance-related pay in April 2013.

It has won the support of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, who said GPES was a “key project” which would benefit practices by unifying data submissions.

However, the NHS Information Centre’s head of primary care strategy Dave Roberts told HSJ that GPs would be able to opt out of any data request.

He said: “We would expect them not to opt out of things like QOF, because that’s a way by which GPs get paid.

“We think we have made it as easy as possible so it is not a burden on practices. We will work with the people who request the data closely, so they can work with practices and the BMA to show them that this will ultimately benefit patient care, and that therefore they should release this data for specific purposes.”

He added that the service would only gather the minimum data that was necessary, and that the system would not lead to large amounts of data being stored centrally.

Instead, specific requests would be made with DH approval by organisations such as the NHS Commissioning Board, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence and Monitor. Although the Information Centre would gather the data, it would delete it once it had been passed onto the requesting body.

Information that could be gathered might include treatment outcome data, data on side-effects caused by new drugs and information on the take-up of screening programmes, Mr Roberts said.

As the data will be standardised, it will be possible to join it up with information from the acute sector, enabling analysts to track the care pathway of a patient across primary and secondary care.

The information centre is beginning procurement for the main technical elements of the service, and expects to announce its first preferred bidder this summer. However no estimates have been released for the cost of the programme.