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GPs in England are to get a wider choice of computer systems, under new plans announced today by the Department of Health. The range of available suppliers has been extended to include approved partners of the government-appointed Local Service Providers.

Local service providers were finally appointed in January last year. The government split the country into five areas and invited IT firms to bid for each regional franchise, as part of the National Programme for IT.

Health Minister John Hutton said: "Throughout the development of new IT systems for the NHS we have listened carefully to what front-line clinicians want from them. GPs have told us they want a wider choice of systems to use and I am pleased we can deliver this."

Suppliers will make it onto the eligble list if they a) have a contract with one of the LSPs, b) can demonstrate the required level of inter-operability with NPfIT systems, and c) can present a sound business case for their inclusion. The systems must also be capable of being hosted in a data centre to enable GP-to-GP data transfer, electronic transmission of prescriptions, Choose and Book electronic appointment booking, and other countrywide services.

A Medix survey of doctors, published in February, revealed that GPs are most concerned about the lack of consultation with family doctors at the planning stages and about the potential risk to patient confidentiality. Subsequently, the NPfIT appointed someone to oversee communication between the programme and GPs.

The imposition of a technology solution has also been raised as an issue. Under the new arrangement, surgeries will be able to chose from a wider range of companies. Eligible suppliers now include EMIS, which has recently signed a contract with CSC, the Local Service Provider for the North West and Midlands. ®

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