It’s a scenario familiar to all GPs: a patient with complex problems registers with the practice and has a crumpled list of their drugs. Their notes come through six weeks later, with a faded printout accompanied by handwritten sheets and numerous hospital letters.

Clinicians in the new practice have to do their best with limited information while their support staff create a new electronic record for that patient.

However, the advent of GP2GP, a software application that’s being rolled-out across England over the next 12 months as part of the National Programme for IT, is designed to bring an end to this scenario.

GP2GP enables the electronic health records of patients to be transferred directly and securely when those patients change practices.

Once the receiving practice has confirmed the new patient’s identity it can request his or her record and, if the former practice is GP2GP-enabled, the transfer can take place almost instantaneously. The record is then integrated automatically into the receiving practice's clinical IT system.

Croydon GP Dr Agnelo Fernandes has been one of the early adopters of GP2GP and says: 'It has been a very successful initiative so far, both in terms of the benefits it's delivering and the technical solution working consistently well.

'It’s a major advance on the paper-based process: as a GP it’s very refreshing to have medical information available for patients when they present for the first time.'

The project is rapidly gaining momentum. More than 2500 practices in England - about 30 per cent - are now actively using the system.

Electronic records that are available quickly are expected to deliver more efficient, focused consultations, with clinicians no longer hampered by incomplete information or having to waste valuable time chasing other practices for information.

The records are also set to be more accurate because there will be fewer errors and omissions incurred through the printing-off and re-keying of data held on paper record and rich patient information, such as history of blood test results for diabetics, is preserved rather than being lost every time a patient moves.

Inner city and university practices, with their high levels of patient turnover, are among the biggest beneficiaries of GP2GP.

Christine Franklin, a practice manager at the University Health Service in Sheffield, says: 'We can get 5000 new students registering here in a single week at the start of the academic year, with more then dribbling in afterwards.

'Now, where patients come to us from other practices which are using GP2GP, we are receiving their electronic health records literally within minutes. I think it will be a tremendous help in the future.'

Dr Alan Hassey sits on the GP2GP project board as one of the representatives from the Joint GP IT Committee. He says: 'It has massive benefits in terms of practice business processes, improved patient safety and faster access to clinical records when patients change practices.'