Integration testing for suppliers offering patient-facing services under the new GP Systems of Choice framework will begin before Christmas, a GP involved with designing the framework has said.

Dr Peter Short, a Derbyshire GP and the national clinical lead for general practice at the Health and Social Care Information Centre, told the Emis National User Group conference in Nottingham that further contracts for the multi-lot framework will also be signed soon.

GPSoC is a framework contract which funds GP IT systems for 75% of practices in England. The framework originally expired in March 2013, but was extended for another year while the Department of Health tendered for a new contract, worth up to £1.2 billion.

The HSCIC signed contracts with 17 suppliers in March and April  for lot one of the framework, which is centrally funded and focuses on patient-facing services and advanced document management.

Short told EHI the purpose of the framework is to encourage innovation from suppliers by giving them greater flexibility to work with users, rather than strictly defining solutions to be provided.

“In the future, it won’t be so much about the contract – the contract is what you fall back on when things go wrong – but about a strong relationship between the users and the suppliers.

“We don’t so much want to define solutions as define problems that we want to solve, and problems that we don’t yet recognise.”

Short said the new contract allows GP system user groups to set guidelines that suppliers must follow, ensuring a “customer-centric” approach to system development.

“It’s not about the mandarins at Whitehall but the users on the ground and what they need to improve… it’s uncomfortable for suppliers because they may not have things so neatly prescribed.”

Payments for suppliers will also be based on usage rates to encourage the development of popular and valuable systems, he said.

Short said introducing subsidiary suppliers to the framework for the first time, along with including a lot for systems that offer interoperability between GP systems and other care providers such as community health, will help to develop a “level playing field” and encourage greater innovation.

 “The block has been removed…if we get this right, and we’ve got this year to do it, we hope to see new innovative software.”

The subsidiary model will also give GP practices greater choice by allowing them to sign a short-term contract for a system to address a problem, before using the funding for something else.

Short said the HSCIC is conscious of the need to ensure that the 13 subsidiary suppliers are properly integrated with the principal systems from TPP, Emis, INPS and Microtest to avoid any problems.

 “There’s an incredible wealth of data sitting in GP systems, and we don’t want to take a risk with core principal systems, because if it goes down, it paralyses your ability to deliver care.”

Short said all four main suppliers will have set up test environments for the subsidiary suppliers to test their products by the start of October.

He said the first-of-type modules for patient-facing services are expected to go through testing before Christmas, fitting with health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s goal of giving patients access to their GP records by April 2015.

Short said the contracts for lot two of the framework, providing additional GP IT services, and lot three, for cross-care setting interoperable services, will be signed some time in autumn.