Deal aims to end two-year dispute with doctors and boost clinical engagement

The Department of Health and Treasury are poised to sign a framework document which aims to let GPs choose which clinical IT system to use, ending two years of wrangling.

The GP system of choice (GPSoC) initiative - announced in 2004 to resolve a conflict between the new general medical services contract, which guaranteed choice, and the national IT programme, which imposed systems developed by local service providers - is seen as vital to getting general practice on board with the national programme.

Negotiations between NHS Connecting for Health, GP representatives, clinical system providers, local strategic partnerships and primary care trusts now look close to ending years of frustration for GPs, primary care trusts and IT suppliers.

The proposals would see clinical system providers agree to make their products compatible with other systems. In return, GPs would be free to choose which system they use.

It says: 'Subject to agreement with the GP system providers and funding approval, GPSoC will become the basis on which PCTs will continue to support provision of clinical systems for GPs.'

The update says agreement is close on creating standard supplier agreements with eight major clinical system providers.

A business case for the DoH and Treasury is being developed, and a new team, with representatives from user groups, will meet later this month.

Importantly for PCTs, the deal includes one-off funding in 2006-07 for infrastructure updates to get practices ready to operate GPSoC-compliant systems and to benefit from new national IT programme services.

Gillian Braunold, clinical lead for Connecting for Health and a prime mover in developing the scheme, told HSJ: 'To get real contracts out is complex, but it is happening.'

But she would not speculate on when an agreement might be signed off.

Sean Riddell, managing director of EMIS, which provides 60 per cent of GP systems in England, said the proposed contracts were 'commercially acceptable'.

He said: 'The question now is whether it is clinically and professionally acceptable.'

However, some GPs still have concerns over whether the scheme will guarantee real choice.

Paul Cundy, who leads IT negotiations for the British Medical Association's GP committee, welcomed the scheme as '99.9 per cent of the way there', but pointed out that it will only fund data migration when a GP is either upgrading with an existing supplier or switching to the GP system offered by their local service provider.

'The cost of migration from one existing supplier system to another will not be funded by GPSoC,' it says. Payment of migration charges would be subject to a clear business and clinical case for the switch.

But Dr Cundy added that choice was 'still not there'.