Poor communication is NPfIT's downfall

With health policy and DoH projects it is easy to develop a sense of deja vu - just think about the merry-go-round that took us from health authorities, to PCGs, to PCTs to merged PCTs. But there is one area where this sense of repetition is almost dizzying, the National Programme for IT (NPfIT).

This week we publish results from this year's Medix survey of doctor's opinions of the NPfIT, of which GP is a sponsor. Scanning the results it was easy to think Medix had sent a previous year's report because the same headline issues have emerged yet again.

Support for the project among GPs has declined year on year so that now only 30 per cent believe the NPfIT is an important priority for the NHS, down from 67 per cent five years ago, and now fewer that half of GPs believe the project will improve clinical care in the long term.

Supporters of the NPfIT respond to such figures with the assurance that doctors' opinions will change once innovations come on stream, yet the Medix survey shows declining support for even those elements of the programme now available, such as Choose and Book and electronic prescriptions.,

Yet there is an answer: all eight Medix surveys on the NPfIT have reported the same fundamental concerns from all doctors, that there has not been enough communication or engagement with the programme over how the various elements will work and their implementation.

Connecting for Health, which manages the NPfIT, will counter this by saying that it does engage with clinicians as well as patients and that it is keen for feedback. Unfortunately, consistent survey results over several years suggest that whatever efforts the IT body is making, they are not effective.

Most doctors would prefer to see an IT system that delivers the NPfIT vision. But there has been a catastrophic breakdown in communications between those implementing the services and those that will use them. GPs are not Luddites - quite the contrary - but if they are to down cudgels, the NPfIT must find new ways to engage them.

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