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Practices required to offer a quarter of appointments online by July

GP practices must make at least 25% of their appointments available for online booking by July, as part of the new GP contract.

The contract, negotiated by the BMA and NHS England, said digital access to GP services should increase for all patients, with the hope that this will help practices manage workload.

This comes after the NHS long-term plan pledged digital appointments to all patients, and said digital GP models will help grow GP numbers.

Under the new arrangements, additional funding for IT will be made available to offer patients 'the right to digital-first primary care', including web and video consultations available to all by April 2021 and the possibility to order repeat prescriptions electronically from April 2019.

Other IT changes mentioned in the contract include:

  • Possibility for practices to share records when a patient registers or de-registers
  • Digitisation of paper medical records
  • Patients able to access their record, including the possibility to add their own information from April 2020, with new registrants having full online access to prospective data from April 2019
  • Patients to be given online access to correspondence by April 2020, as the system will move to digital by default
  • End of fax machines use for NHS or patient communications by 2020

All the changes will become contractual requirements from April 2020 and April 2021, NHS England said.

BMA’s GP committee chair Richard Vautrey said: ‘The health secretary has made his ambitions around technology in general practice clear, and GPs recognise the potential convenience that new systems can offer to many patients. 

‘We have therefore agreed a realistic timescale to improve digital access for patients, building on improved infrastructure to firstly be able to book an appointment and access to their own records online, before progressing to video consultations for all in 2021.

'We will also set in train an important programme to digitalise all remaining paper records, so freeing up much needed space in GP practices as well as delivering a comprehensive electronic patient record.' 

Last year, NHS England said it was looking at offering patients online access to GP records from a certain date onwards to avoid ‘an information breach’ in releasing historical notes, as part of talks to realise a Government commitment.

According to NHS Digital’s figures, the number of patients who have signed up to online GP services almost doubled in 2017/18, with nearly 14m people using the virtual services to book GP appointments, order repeat prescriptions and view their records. 

GPs were previously told they would be required to increase the number of patients using online services to book appointments, as part of their contract.  

 Find all the headlines from the 2019/20 GP contract here...

Readers' comments (6)

  • I am pretty sure most practices do this already.

    The idea of patients adding stuff to the record is only acceptable if there is no assumption that the GP will read it.

    The distinction between prospective and historical data is appreciated. Spending hours going through data from the 1990s, that the patient is never going to read anyway - seems like a complete waste of time.

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  • Idiots, all the work done to make sure patients end up with prompt care / advice / action in the right setting ruined. They will be booking directly with the GP to be redirected to reception, secretaries, physio, PALS and yet another GP appointment wasted. At least it will be an easy, but pointless, appointment. No joined up thinking in the drive to satisfy IT mania.

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  • At least 1/3rd of our patient have no online access and are not interested in getting it.These tend to be the old and sick who need us most ah well as beaker says not really joint up is it.

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  • So the worried well who have nothing better to do than surf the net to make yet another appointment will remain worried and well. The ones who really need our attention, as already said, will remain lost.
    When internet access is not perfect, as is the case in my remote mountain practice, you’re stuffed, as making contact by phone becomes ever more difficult.
    Recent research showed that 8% of people had never accessed the internet and that was tending to be the old and/or sick. IT may have given us many benefits but leaves us vulnerable in many ways. As I have said in the past ‘Brave or Grave New World’.

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  • Beaker has hit the nail on the head here.

    Already we have people occasionally making it through to a GP appointment because they refuse to tell reception why they would like to see the GP - only to be redirected to physio, pharmacy, nurse, phlebotomists, or a different GP.

    And we have people booking nurse appointments for blood tests that should have gone to phlebotomists, and with HCAs for rashes that should have gone to nurses or GPs.

    25% is a huge proportion of appointments to be open to such inefficient usage.

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  • And while I'm at it - how many of us have seen people who book an appointment online to come and see us face to face to say can I have my cholesterol tested / an NHS health check / do I need my thyroxine dose altered, etc etc, which could and should have been done by phone or reception

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