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GP funding for text message appointment reminders to remain until September

NHS England has agreed to continue funding a service that allows GP practices to send text message appointment reminders through their email systems until September this year, after the Department of Health originially said it would be stop funding the service from March.

Pulse revealed in July that the Department of Health and NHS England had submitted a business case for NHS mail 2 which excluded funding for SMS, commonly used by practices to text appointment or health check reminders.

GP leaders warned that the proposals would undermine the Government’s inclusion strategy, as reminders were a key part of contacting hard to reach population groups.

The latest update from the Health and Social Care Information Centre states that NHS England has opted to delay.

It says: ‘NHS England has now formally agreed to continue to support SMS for primary care organisations only, including CCGs, GP practices, pharmacists, optometrists, dentists and commissioning support units that directly support the above groups until 30 September 2015.

‘NHS England has taken this decision to provide additional time for existing primary care services to make provisions with general practices, to transition this to a local service from 1 October 2015.’

In a letter to IT leads in June, the HSCIC advised primary care providers to consider cheaper alternatives to SMS, such as email or smartphone apps for notifying patients.

Readers' comments (9)

  • if its not funded, it stops. Quite simple. unless the contract is changed to say it must be offered, with the funding to go with it. Othewise it still stops. People can use pen, paper and calenders to remind themselves. DNA's though a hassel are something we can not take any responsibility for. This lies well and firmly with the patient and no one else.

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  • I agree. If they pull the funding, they pull the service and patients can be directed to take it up with DoH/NHSE if they are not happy.

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  • It costs about £25 per month per practice for the service and if CCG bulk buys it gets a discount.

    Saving just ONE appointment per month, per practice recoups the costs for the NHS.

    I'm surprised the CCGs are considering stopping it at all.

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  • Yes but any saving is theoretical - we are not actually paid per consultation. The benefit is to those waiting longer because the DNA wastes appointments.

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  • thats £25 we should not paying. who ever wants it can pay, not me or any other gp partner anywhere in the country!

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  • £25/month? Where do you get that calculation?

    We see about 3000 patients/month. Patient will get txt when they book as confirmation and reminder a day before. That's 6000 txt/month, even before other txt such as flu, chronic disease reminder etc. On average it's more like 10000 txt/month

    6000 txt at even 1p/txt will cost £100/month.

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  • Anonymous | GP Partner | 13 January 2015 8:37am

    err - no one pays for texts these days. If a company is charging 1p/ text then that is a stinging rip off.

    Even on my own mobile, there are apps that allow texting through internet connection alone.

    When I implemented the service even 3 years ago on my old practice it was £25 a month unlimited texts.

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  • Currently the texts are paid for centrally as part of the NHS Mail system. There are suppliers who provide software for a fixed fee each month that manages the sending out of the texts. In these cases it is the software that you are paying for and not the actual text messages.
    Apparently NHS England (or whoever) currently pays about 2p per text message which is pretty much as low as it will go wholesale. For smaller quantities you would be talking 5-10p per text. Even if the cash comes down it will be unlikely to pay for the increased costs as bulk buying dissappears.

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  • Chris Kenyon

    HELLO everyone - the ability to send SMS messages and Faxes via NHS.net remains ESSENTIAL until everyone, both patients and hospital departments are all reliably on email. This will never happen. I don't know how the rest of you organise on-call but we have a list of patients to call back. So often there is no signal and one gets voicemail. In this case I send an SMS asking the patient to email me and then we can usually sort things out very quickly, often without a long conversation or the need to see the patient. Similarly there are so many departments with whom we have to communicate who just DON'T use email - they are wedded to the stone-age technology of fax so at least we can email their fax machines. If or when these services are stopped our lives will get very much busier as we will have to have very many more long phone conversations. The funding absolutely has to continue and I agree that it should cost almost nothing in any case.

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