GPs could soon be able to access faster internet with BT’s ‘full fibre’ broadband, the health secretary has said.
Speaking at a Conservative Party Conference fringe event last week, health secretary Matt Hancock said he has spoken with BT Openreach’s chief executive about providing every practice with fast broadband.
He added that ‘every single GP’ should also sign up to the Government’s ‘local full fibre network’, which aims to help local businesses get better internet connections.
GP leaders said at the same event that they were willing to provide video consultations but lacked the appropriate bandwidth to do so.
As former secretary of state digital, culture, media and sport for Mr Hancock said he feels ‘keenly the poor connectivity’.
He said: ‘Earlier today I bumped into [chief executive] Clive Selley from [BT] Openreach at this conference and I said “Clive, there’s something you need to do, because I’ve got thousands of GP practices that need your full fibre connectivity”, and he said “Send me their addresses”. They’re up for it.’
He added: ‘There is a programme that I put in place in my last job called local full fibre networks, which every single GP should be taking advantage of.’
According to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport website, the programme aims to ‘maximise the availability and benefit of gigabit capable broadband services to public sector, business and residential users’.
Full fibre broadband relies only on fibre-optic cables to provide an internet connection, replacing traditional copper wires, and promises ‘faster, more reliable, and more affordable’ internet connections.
This comes after Mr Hancock said last month that Babylon’s GP at Hand, which promises a face-to-face video consultation within hours, should be rolled out nationally.
BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said general practice needs ‘that commitment to investment… We have to lay the foundation of a digital infrastructure’.
‘I’ve got two screens on my desk that will enable me to do video consultations but I haven’t got the bandwidth to enable it to happen.’
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard added: ‘I’d love to be able to offer Skype-type consulting. [But] my surgery broadband is so way off that. We have got supposedly high-speed broadband but when we’re all logged on, everything goes down.’
A BT Openreach spokesperson said: ‘We are keen to work with the health secretary on delivering future proof broadband infrastructure to GP surgeries across the UK…
‘We believe our network can do even more for patients and healthcare professionals, and we’re talking to all parts of government about how to encourage greater investment in full fibre broadband.’
At last week’s RCGP conference, Professor Stokes-Lampard called for all GP practices to funded to provide e-consultations by 2022.