The dispute between EMIS and the National Programme for IT became increasingly heated this week with the EMIS National User Group encouraging members to write to their MP to express their concerns about the National Programme; and NHS IT Director General Richard Granger appearing to criticise EMIS’s systems.

With almost 60% of GPs using EMIS systems the concern is that unless a compromise is found many practices will eventually have to switch from their current systems in order to benefit from the National Programme.

As reported in E-Health Insider last week EMIS last week gave notice that it will not sign sub-contractor contracts with any of the five LSPs who will deliver the NPfIT across NHS regions – specifically with Accenture in the North East.  The story has attracted a phenomenal response from EHI readers with 70 separate reader comments posted against the story.

Comments have reflected just how polarised views are on EMIS and the National Programme; ranging from extremely committed EMIS users robustly defending the company and its products, to readers roundly criticising the company’s systems and record on interoperability. 

However, a common theme among many primary care professionals who commented was that they took exception to NHS IT Director General Richard Granger’s pointed comments, reported in last week’s Guardian, about the limitations of primary care IT and those involved in it.

Dr Manpreet Pujara, chairman of the EMIS National User Group (NUG) told E-Health Insider that he had received a lot of feedback from members of the EMIS NUG who had been writing to him following the comments attributed to Granger.

Dr Pujara confirmed to E-Health Insider that he has been encouraging EMIS NUG members to write to their MP with their concerns about being potentially forced to switch systems. "Yes I have been encouraging members to contact their MP."  Asked how many such messages he had received copies of, he said it was "certainly into two figures so far".

Granger has been emphatic that he will not allow any one supplier to dictate terms to the National Programme: "I will be even-handed about resolving this. We need to mediate a solution, but we will not have a situation where the NHS is held to ransom by one supplier," reported the Sunday Telegraph.

Dr Paul Cundy, of the BMA’s General Practitioner Committee’s (GPC) IT Committee commented: "Eighty per cent of GPs signed up for the new GMS contract and it was absolutely clear that changes would be needed in IT, and some systems would need to be replaced."

In a 23 January press release EMIS expanded on why it has decided not to sign contracts with LSPs: "Far from promoting competition choice and improved functionality for GP software EMIS believes, the current proposals will inevitably stifle competition, limit choice and remove the present focus on the particular requirements of GP computing."

Dr David Stables, Medical Director of EMIS said: "NPfIT and the choice between accredited systems are not mutually exclusive.  There is therefore no rational reason for medical practices to be obliged to forego their chosen accredited system." 

According to a 25 January Sunday Telegraph Granger said of the dispute with EMIS. "It is irrelevant. If necessary, we will deliver alternative services," and added that many GPs had changed systems before. "There is no need to stick with a mediocre system that has dominated in the past."

Dr Pujara, resolutely countered recent criticism of EMIS’s systems, saying: "You have people who think that the systems we are using are very mediocre, but if a company can grow from next to nothing to become the largest supplier in the market they must be doing something right."

He added: "Historically we’ve paid for our systems and I’m sure that there will be a sufficient number of people prepared to dig into their pocket if the need arises."

In a separate development the GPC IT Committee on 23 January issued a questionnaire on interoperability issues, specifically focusing on data migration problems when moving records between different practice systems.  The survey seeks to get a better picture of the extent of a problem that has been anecdotally reported for years.

"Data loss during migration is tantamount to tearing up the Lloyd George record and burning the contents.  This is professionally unconscionable in terms of patient safety and professional ethics," Dr Cundy told EHI.