§ 11. Mr. Franks
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what initiatives are being taken by his Department to promote the greater use of computers to help general practitioners.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
We are evaluating the use of microcomputers by 140 GPs in a scheme funded by my hon. Friend the Minister for Information Technology. The study is looking at the benefits of computers in patient care and practice management, and its results— to be published late next year— will show how useful computers really are to GPs. We are also preparing a factual report on about 20 different GP computer systems to help GPs who are interested in computers to make an informed choice.
§ Mr. Franks
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for his reply. Does he accept that the pooling of computerised information about patients suffering from diseases such as cancer and multiple sclerosis will speed up tremendously the research into a cure for those diseases? Will he consider making capital grants available for that specific purpose?
§ Mr. Clarke
I agree with my hon. Friend that that is one of the great potential advantages of computerising general practice. We are not, of course, inhibiting GPs' choice of computers, but it would be helpful if all the systems were compatible so that we could examine the choice. We have already made substantial capital funds available to the scheme which I described— the so-called "Micros for GPs Scheme" funded by the Department of Trade and Industry. We shall consider further ways of encouraging the worthwhile spread of computers.
§ Mr. Dobson
All that said, will the Minister confirm that the DHSS reimburses GPs for work on manual card index systems but does not reimburse them if they want to buy a computer?
§ Mr. Clarke
That is an extremely simplified version of the system, and I shall not give a long and elaborate one. GPs are partly reimbursed through the present expenses system for buying computers. We do not reimburse them in full. We must leave the GPs to make some judgments of their own about how much a computer is worth to their practices.