The Government has announced £240m funding for practices in England to ‘embrace latest technology’ as part of its GP recovery plan.
The full recovery plan is expected this week, but as part of its initial announcement, the Department of Health and Social Care said that the money will be used for ‘replacing old analogue phones with modern systems so patients never get engaged tones’.
This had already been stipulated in the contract imposition, which said that practices will be required to procure this technology from a national framework, called Better Purchasing Framework
As part of the recovery plan, health secretary Steve Barclay will announce a major expansion of the role of receptionists to become expert ‘care navigators’.
In the imposed GP contract, NHS England said that practices will need to provide access to patients at ‘first contact’, and the DHSC said that the new systems will mean that patients ‘will know on the day…how their query will be managed’.
However, the RCGP said that improved telephony was ‘one part of the jigsaw’, adding that access will not be improved without more GPs.
More details of the recovery plan are expected tomorrow, and the BMA has previously said it expects workload dump from secondary care to be addressed.
The 2023/24 imposed contract had already
In today’s announcement, the DHSC said: ‘Practices across the UK will also be given £240 million this year to embrace the latest technology, replacing old analogue phones with modern systems so patients never get engaged tones and easy to use online tools to ensure patients get the care they need as soon as possible.
‘This will mean when patients contact their practice online or over the phone, they will know on the day they make contact how their query will be managed, rather than being told to call back later. If their need is urgent, they will be assessed and given appointments on the same day. If it is not urgent, appointments should be offered within two weeks, or patients will be referred to NHS 111 or a local pharmacy.’
Mr Barclay said: ‘I want to make sure people receive the right support when they contact their general practice and bring an end to the 8am scramble for appointments.
‘To do this we are improving technology and reducing bureaucracy, increasing staffing and changing the way primary care services are provided, which are all helping to deliver on the government’s promise to cut waiting lists.’
However, Professor Kamilla Hawthorne, chair of the RCGP, said: ‘Investment into improved telephony systems in general practice with sufficient numbers of trained people to use them is one part of the jigsaw in improving access, and it is something the College has called for and welcomes. We await further details of the full access recovery plan, but ultimately the best way to improve access to GP care and address the intense workload and workforce pressures GP teams are working under, is to increase numbers of fully trained, full-time equivalent GPs through effective recruitment and retention schemes.
‘The public need to be aware of what’s achievable. Politicians think that promising faster access will improve services and win votes, but many practices are already struggling for lack of GPs and other clinical staff.’