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GPs to be charged for sending text messages through email in 'short-sighted' DH move

Exclusive Practices are set to be charged for sending text messages to patients’ phones reminding them of appointments and notifying them of test results under proposals that IT experts have warned will affect hard-to-reach patients.

NHS England and Department of Health have developed a business case for the development of the NHSmail 2 system to replace the current NHSmail, which they say will enhance the existing system, improve security and allow providers to customise their email addresses among other benefits.

However, the business case also highlights that central funding for the widely used email-to-SMS text messaging function will be halted in March 2015, despite many practices relying on this to contact patients effectively.

GP leaders said that the current system is essential for promoting inclusion and outreach with hard to reach populations - which the Government has promoted as a major aim - and that cutting it would be ‘short sighted’.

A letter from the Health and Social Care Information Centre informed NHS Trusts in June that practices will have to fund their own alternatives to the NHS SMS service if they wish to continue it beyond March 2015.

The same letter explained that NHS England will be leading the investigation on the service’s future in primary care and would notify GPs in the immediate future.

The letter states: ‘NHS England will lead on behalf of CSUs and CCGs to investigate options for future SMS arrangements for those primary care organisations. CSUs, CCGs and GPs should take no action at this point.’

‘NHS England will provide a further update direct to primary care organisations on this matter in due course.’

It also says: ’Organisations may also wish to consider their continued use of email-to-SMS in the context of the widespread use of Smartphone Apps and email by the general population - both of which are cheaper means of communication.’

The newsletter for YORLMC – representatives for North Yorkshire, Bradford and Airedale LMCs - states: ‘The GPC is aware of the proposals regarding NHS Mail and SMS messaging and has informed NHS England that funding for SMS messages must continue for practices. A further update will be provided in light of current discussions involving the GPC, NHS Mail Stakeholder Engagement Group and NHS England. ‘

Dr Grant Ingrams, vice chair of Coventry LMC and former chair of the GPC IT subcommittee told Pulse that cutting the scheme would be a burden for practices.

Dr Ingrams said: ‘In the next version, they’ve decided not to fund SMS, which to me is bizarre. Because we’re talking about trying to be inclusive, breaking down barriers and to meet hard to reach populations. This is a tool that helps us, and so they’re going to stop it.’

‘I use it to send out messages to patients, which tend to be the younger patients, who are more difficult to find otherwise. And we’ve got one particular patient who’s deaf and it’s really the only way we can communicate with them.’

Dr Ingrams added: ‘It makes life a lot easier, and quicker – because otherwise it would be filling in a letter and sticking it in the post. So I think it’s very short sighted.’

He said the likely alternative option for practices would be to purchase third party software, or send messages from a practice phone.

It comes as health secretary Jeremy Hunt has been promoting his ambition for the NHS to be paperless by 2018, including plans to harness smartphone technology and teleconsulting, in a bid to save the NHS £4.4bn.

Another scheme is looking at collecting patient responses to the Friends and Family test via text.

NHS England declined to comment on their involvement and referred to the Department of Health who had not responded at time of publication.

Readers' comments (16)

  • Vinci Ho

    Hypocrisy
    On one hand, talk about how to tackle DNAs to save the resources. On the other hand, NHSE only cares about money . Like the government only cares about GDP and house prices......

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  • We have no compulsion to use this. If they want us to pay we won`t and stop sending texts.
    The patients are the losers. If they ask us we will direct them to the local MP (who happens to be conservative)

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  • Go a head. We will send a blanket text just before this comes on to explain why they will no longer get appointment reminder etc.

    I'm not paying for a service when our core funding is dropping year on year. If they start charging for NHS mail, I'll stop using that also and adv people they can call me or write to me if they need to send confidential information.

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  • I think they must have massive meetings to think of ways of scraping more money out of primary care.

    They were struggling to think of anything else, then someone at the back received a text and had his eureka moment. Should have had his phone off.

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  • If the BMA had any real guts it would say if you do this we will ask every practice to send Vote Labour texts in the months before the switch off

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  • Why vote labour - those morons were the people who set out the new contract and the road to privatisation.

    Frying pan into the fire comes to mind voting for Tories or labour, and the joke that is the Lib Dems.

    Problem is there is no viable alternative, and you can't trust any of them either, as protecting the establishment is top of their minds as recent scandals show.

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  • Just Your Average Joe

    Find anything good in the NHS - destroy it, and make it irreversible.

    Once it all goes to pot - call in your private mates to rescue the NHS and cherry pick the profitable parts.

    Let the poor and elderly and anyone who can't afford their astronomical insurance premiums live in 3rd world squalor.

    That's the politicians' plan.

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  • Just claim it against tax.
    The government will end up paying in any case.

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  • Anon 10.43
    Even a claim against top rate tax would not make the government end up paying the full cost and would directly reduce partner drawings.

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  • are they for real?
    unfortunately yes...unacceptably moronic and overwhelmingly unfit for purpose..please bma gpc end all cooperation with this dysfunctional 'organisation' but ruthless confrontation needed for the sake of us and our patients.
    this is what happens when admin costs rise frpm 5 to 14per cent due to successive government 'deforms' over past twenty years...too many useless admins dreaming up yet more damage they can do to nhs..and' working 'especially hard to destroy primary care.
    unbelievable
    incredible
    unacceptable
    support nhs action party.

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