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Survey highlights GP ambivalence about NHS IT programme

Doctors concerned about patient confidentiality as £6.2bn initiative is criticised

Could it be much worse from a government perspective? Many of the products from its £6.2 billion information technology programme (NPfIT) are coming online, yet a new survey of GPs demonstrates, at best, an alarming ambivalence towards NPfIT, and at worst, a growing scepticism and even dislike towards its facilities and management.

The recent findings come from a survey conducted by Medix, the independent medical polling company, which recorded the views of over 1,300 GPs and doctors from a well-balanced range of specialists.

Although 71 per cent of GPs said that the NHS Care Records Service would mean that patient confidentiality would be less secure than it is today, the main source of GP's ire was 'Choose and Book', the new electronic booking system which the NHS says allows patients to make their first outpatient appointment at a time, place and date suitable to them. 58 per cent felt it was 'unimportant' or 'not at all important'.

One GP commented: ìChoose and Book is crazy. Electronic booking is an excellent idea. 'Choice' is a misguided concept created by politicians in order to try to woo the population into some sort of feeling that the NHS is managed well! The 'Choice' agenda is doomed to failureÖî

Another described Choose and Book as: ìChaotic, slow and confusedÖUnnecessary for personal careÖî

The one source of hope for the government is that 59 per cent of GPs still believe that NPfIT will bring significant or slight improvements for patient care in the longer term. Doctors also viewed the following as important: electronic transmission of prescriptions (55 per cent), the NHS Record Service (58 per cent), Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS) (43 per cent), Quality Management and Analysis System (QMAS) (75 per cent) and e-mail directory services (58 per cent).

The overall impressions made by the statistics speak for themselves. Only 1 per cent rated 'progress so far' as good. 75 per cent felt it was 'poor' or 'unacceptable'. More worryingly, 72 per cent of GPs doubted their local PCT's ability to fund the programme to completion. A mere 13 per cent of GPs felt that, 'the expenditure of over £6bn on NPfIT is a good use of resources'.

Robin Guernier, chairman of Medix, told the Financial Times: ìThree years ago doctors were very supportive [of NPfIT], but that has largely dissipated despite improved levels of information.î He added that it would take an ìextraordinary effortî to ìovercome the distrust and cynicismî that has replaced early enthusiasm in doctors' minds.

One GP's comment, similar to many in the report, may reflect why. He said: ìFifteen years ago I could refer to any hospital I wanted. Ten years ago the healthcare reforms stopped me from doing this, and now the reforms want me to do it again, but at a cost of billions. What a waste.î

The NHS Connecting for Health defended itself, claiming that the Medix survey had ìpicked out the most negative items in its overviewî.

30th September 2008

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