Independent report agrees with GPs -GPASS software is not up to the job

GENERAL Practitioners' concerns about the IT they use in their practices have been backed up by an independent review of the system.

The General Practice Administration System for Scotland (GPASS) is the most widely used system in primary care, with around 800 surgeries using it.

But, for the last five years, doctors have been discussing their fears about the system, due to concerns that it is not fit for purpose.

Now, a review by management consultancy Deloitte has lent weight to doctors' worries. The report has been circulated to health board chief executives and other health and IT officials for their own comments.

The British Medical Association (BMA) in Scotland welcomed the Deloitte report.

Dr Stuart Scott, the deputy chairman and IT lead on the Scottish GPs' committee, says: "This report bears out the concerns that Scotland's GPs have been expressing about GPASS for a number of years - that it is not fit for purpose and is hindering GPs' ability to deliver the new GP contract and, consequently, on the Scottish Executive's Delivering for Health strategy."

Concerns about the system have included a glitch that meant that patients' medical notes disappeared, only to be found attached to other records.

GPs also say the system cannot keep up with the new quality and outcomes framework, where practices receive extra payments for carrying out particular services for patients.

However, because GPASS is provided to NHS Boards by the Executive free of charge, it is still the preferred system.

Boards are reluctant to pay extra for other systems, although doctors believe better ones are available.

Earlier this year, doctors at the BMA's local medical committees conference voted that GPASS was unfit for purpose.

As part of its NHS IT revamp, the BMA wants the Executive to speed up a change from GPASS to address all their concerns.

Scott says: "Criticisms of the new system by GPs - which have, in the past, been shrugged off by civil servants - now have the backing of an independent group of experts from outwith the NHS, and the health minister must take these recommendations seriously.

"This report must signal the end of the line for GPASS."

The BMA says that as around 80 per cent of practices are using GPASS, the shift to a new supplier would need planning, resources and investment to make it as smooth as possible.

Scott adds: "The BMA is now keen to work with the Scottish Executive not only to identify appropriate commercial suppliers, but also to develop an exit strategy for GPASS that will ensure continued support for those doctors still using the system until such a time when they can transfer to an alternative."

A Scottish Executive spokeswoman says: "Deployment of any new systems will be the subject of competitive tendering, which will involve consultation with all key stakeholders.

"The procurement process should allow for the maintenance of choice, to avoid supplier lock-in."

The spokeswoman says that GPASS would not be switched off, and support would be maintained until a "managed migration" to systems which support the whole primary care team.

"In the meantime, no health board is to enter into a commercial agreement committing it to a primary care IT supplier for more than three years.

"This is to maintain the eHealth strategic objective to converge to common systems within three to five years," she adds.