The GP Systems of Choice scheme is to be extended until the end of March 2013.

The Department of Health said it has decided to extend the scheme to give GP practices continuity while it agrees who will be responsible for providing IT services in the new NHS.

More than 7,000 GP practices in England have been using the GPSoC framework to fund their IT systems since 2007.

Primary care trusts have been able to set up local call-off agreements with GP system suppliers to receive funding for GP systems. But the four year national agreement was due to expire in August this year.

The DH said approximately 445 call off agreements are in place and most were due to expire by March 2012.

It now plans to replace the multiple local call-off agreements with six national call-off agreements with the GPSoC suppliers – CSC supplying TPP’s SystmOne, EMIS, Healthy Software, INPS, iSoft and Microtest.

The DH said the six national agreements would make it easier to reflect changes in responsibility as PCTs merge or “as practices move to other arrangements over time.” The new call-off agreements are due to be signed by the end of April.

A DH spokesperson told EHI primary Care that the new call-off agreements would last until the end of March 2013.

She added: “This will provide practices with continuity of service during a time of wider modernisation change in the NHS and in line with the General Practitioner Committee’s desire to see the security and stability of GPSoC maintained.

"We are working closely with the GPC and RCGP to ensure that any future replacement for GPSoC will continue to meet the IT needs of GPs.”

The DH said all GPSoC stakeholders had been very keen to see the GPSoC arrangements retained in the short term.

The DH said the there would continue to be local accountability, with each PCT “and potential future successor organisation” signing up to a schedule that orders systems for practices in their area.

It said practices would still be able to migrate between systems on the GPSoC framework and the split between central and local funding would remain the same, with NHS Connecting for Health continuing to fund the software license fee and hosting charges.

The GPSoC scheme was set up in 2007 to provide GPs with the system choice guaranteed in their GMS contract and following concerns that some practices were being forced to switch to local service provider funded solutions because it was cheaper for PCTs.