Just 7% of GPs back spending on IT

A GP survey has revealed that most GPs think the National Programme for IT is a financial waste. By Nick Bostock

Three quarters of GPs think the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) is a waste of money, acc-ording to a survey backed by GP.

Support for the programme has fallen markedly since it began in 2002. Just 7 per cent of GPs think the £12 billion being spent on the programme is a good use of NHS resources, down from 46 per cent in February 2003.

The proportion of GPs that believe the programme is an important priority for the NHS has almost halved since 2003, falling from 67 per cent to 35 per cent. Some 82 per cent of GPs and 72 per cent of all doctors said progress of the national programme for IT since it began in 2002 was poor or unacceptable.

More than 1,000 doctors including 437 GPs took part in the survey by healthcare research firm Medix UK, supported by GP and other publications.

Choice concerns
Concerns about Choose and Book (CaB) are widespread, along with fears that the national care record system will risk patient confidentiality.

A total of 79 per cent of GPs said the national care record system would not improve patient confidentiality, and just over half said they will not upload patients' details without specific consent. Almost two thirds of GPs feared hackers.

The findings cast doubt on whether the IT programme's policy of an opt-out model for the care record system can work. Current plans involve uploading data automatically, but allowing patients to block clinicians from accessing the data.

Only 2 per cent of GPs say CaB saves time in consultations. Three quarters say it adds time - adding more than five minutes to previous referral methods according to more than half of GP respondents. More than a quarter of GPs said it has a negative effect on patient outcomes.

The findings show the IT programme is still failing to communicate well with clinicians. Only 5 per cent say they have been adequately consulted over the programme, although for the first time more than half said they had received some information.

Despite the criticisms, 58 per cent of GPs and 69 per cent of all doctors believe the IT programme will improve clinical care in the long term.

Ewan Davis, chairman of the British Computer Society's primary healthcare specialist group and a member of the joint GPC and RCGP IT committee, said the programme had brought few tangible benefits for GPs.

‘GPs should have been the IT programme's natural allies. I think it is particularly worrying that a group that has embraced IT and its benefits are so pessimistic about this,' he said.

He said pessimism had grown because GPs had seen existing IT systems threatened, without suitable alternatives in place and that implementation of IT systems such as CaB had been ‘appalling technically'.

‘CaB was released far too early. GPs who have stopped using it because it didn't work will be harder to persuade to try again,' he said.

GPs who took part in the survey were scathing in their assessment of the NPfIT. Cornwall GP Dr Mark McCartney, from Liskeard, said vast amounts of money had gone into the IT programme for no obvious benefit.

Warnings ignored
Enough patients would opt out of the national care record database to ‘make the overall scheme worthless', but warnings had been ignored, he said.

The IT programme ‘has stifled innovation of IT in primary care, and has been a huge waste of money', Dr McCartney said.

Surrey GP Dr Neville Staunton, from Weybridge, said Choose and Book was ‘a complete waste of time and money'.

‘With regard to patient confidentiality, a centralised system to be accessed by thousands of practitioners must be less secure than a locked filing cabinet,' he said.

Gloucestershire GP Dr Andrew Rigby, from Tewkesbury, said he was a ‘committed proponent of IT to support patient care'.

He said IT systems he had used were designed from the bottom up to support clinical care, whereas the programme risked creating a ‘huge behemoth'.

‘The establishment of a huge central database was too ambitious. We should have started with locally managed systems built to common standards. That way we would have been able to engage clinicians fully,' he said.

Connecting for Health declined to comment until it had seen the full survey results.

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