A practice has had to run consultations without access to consultants’ letters for almost a month because of an IT problem it says was created by a server upgrade for Choose and Book.

Dr Paul Thornton, a GP in Kingsbury, Warwickshire, contacted EHI Primary Care this week after what he described as “extensive attempts” to get the problem resolved by NHS Connecting for Health, BT and the suppliers responsible for the server upgrade.

Dr Thornton says the problem began after the practice’s server was upgraded from Windows NT4 to Windows Server 2003 at the beginning of October in preparation for Choose and Book. After the upgrade the resulting increase in data traffic between the practice and its branch surgery resulted in the existing data link being ‘overwhelmed’, leaving the practice unable to view scanned documents such as consultants’ letters.

He told EHI Primary Care: “The upgrade went smoothly but straight away we were unable to access the scanned documents such as consultant letters from our branch surgery. These letters are critical for our patients’ care some of whom are seriously ill and yet we have been told that we must wait until November 4 for the problem to be fixed. This is causing patient anxiety and delayed care.”

A spokesman for BT said it was not possible to comment on the specific problems faced by Dr Thornton’s practice.

He told EHI Primary Care: “What should be noted is the significant progress that BT has made on N3 with 73 per cent of GPs in England now having a broadband connection. Occasionally there will be problems along the way that we take extremely seriously and we will do our utmost to put things right but we couldn’t possibly comment on individual cases.”

Dr Thornton said the problem arose because the server upgrade increased the amount of data which had to cross between the practice’s main surgery in Kingsbury and its branch surgery in Hurley which cares for about 3,000 patients.

He added: “The established ‘Kilostream’ link has been overwhelmed and as a consequence the doctors and nurses are unable to view patient letters during patient consultations at the branch surgery. These letters exist only as scanned images.”

Dr Thornton says he was told by engineers who went to the surgery that a solution to overcome the problem was already working in other general practices and that implementation was technically feasible within hours.

He added: "The delay lies in the priority given to the task by BT and Connecting for Health. To take a week to solve the problem may have been reasonable, to take more than a month is not."

Dr Thornton concluded: "The use of IT in General Practice is way ahead of the rest of the NHS. If Connecting for Health cannot adequately protect that which is established, how much confidence should one have in their ability to roll out, and sustain, their new proposals?"