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Practices will be funded to provide direct appointment bookings through NHS 111

Practices will receive funding through the global sum to enable direct booking of GP appointments through NHS 111, NHS England has announced.

NHS England will allocate an annual £30m pot of funding to practices to help them introduce the service and cover costs arising from changes made to the extended hours access requirements

The news, which comes as part of the new five-year GP contract released today, means from April practices will be required to offer at least one appointment per 3,000 NHS 111 patients, per day, but this will be subject to triage.

In March last year, NHS England said direct booking of GP appointments by the 111 clinical assessment service could be rolled out nationally from April 2019, following a trial launched in 2016 in the North East of England.

The pilot showed a significant number of patients who would have previously been advised by non-clinical assessors to see their GPs for a minor ailment or an urgent repeat prescription were seen in community pharmacies instead.

In the new contract announcement, the BMA  said: ‘[The contract includes] NHS 111 direct booking in to practice appointments at a rate of one appointment per 3,000 patients available per day. This will happen only after triage.’

It will be up to practices to decide which appointments will be made available through NHS 111, as long as they are ‘spaced evenly throughout the day’, the BMA explained.

The contract also includes changes to the DES for extended hours, which will expect 100% of practices to join a primary care network, based on geography, from July. 

It said: ‘To reflect the increased population coverage of the extended hours access requirements, funding will also increase accordingly. We have agreed that this takes the form of recurrent investment of £30m per annum (in 2019/20) in the practice global sum, which also recognises the introduction of 111 direct booking.’

BMA’s GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ’Support and funding for primary care networks mean practices can work together, led by a single GP, and employ additional staff to provide a range of services in the local area, ensuring patients have ready access to the right healthcare professional, and helping reduce workload pressures on GPs. 

’While the way it is funded will change, networks will continue to offer evening and weekend appointments to all patients, and as part of this effort to improve access, practices will have to make one appointment available a day available for every 3,000 patients on their list to be directly booked through NHS 111.’

NHS 111 has long faced criticism for a lack of clinical input, with the BMA initially saying that colds and sore thumbs were being referred to primary care, while an NHS England report concluded in 2014 that NHS Pathways, the system used by NHS 111 operators, was not sensitive enough to identify sepsis.

Last year, NHS England increased the number of NHS 111 calls that receive clinical input, in an effort to ease pressure on GP practices

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