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NHS long-term plan promises digital GP appointments for all

Everyone who wants them will be able to have digital GP appointments, the new long-term plan for the NHS in England will pledge.

The Government believes that digital access to GPs will aid early prevention and contribute to a reduction in premature deaths by tens of thousands.

In a pre-briefing for the plan – due to be published today – NHS England said that the ‘blueprint to make the NHS fit for the future’ will ‘use the latest technology, such as digital GP consultations for all those who want them, coupled with early detection and a renewed focus on prevention to stop an estimated 85,000 premature deaths each year’.

It said that the plan would ‘open a digital “front door” to the health service, allowing patients to be able to access health care at the touch of a button.

Although details of the plan have yet to be published, the Department of Health and Social Care has previously said it wants every patient in England to be able to access their GP via online or video consultation by 2023/24.

And NHS Digital has said the new NHS App could support GP video consultations starting this year, although rollout of the app has been delayed. Initially, the Government had said patients would be able to book GP appointments via the app by the end of 2018.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘Fundamental to the expansion of cutting-edge treatments and digital consultations is to first get the basics right, such as the workforce. There isno use in opening the digital front door to the health service if we don’t have the healthcare staff behind it.’

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NHS Digital launched the procurement process for new IT systems for general practice in England last week, with providers told they must be be able to provide online or video consultation to all patients by 2023.

As previously reported by Pulse, practices may be forced to switch systems if their current provider does not meet the new requirements set out by the Government.

EMIS announced in November that its new EMIS-X system would move patient records onto the cloud and that Patient Access would begin to facilitate GP video consultations.

This year, GPs are also in for a shake-up to the GP contract on the greatest scale since 2004, aimed at enabling ‘full adoption’ of ‘digital’ primary care models.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has previously lauded Babylon’s model, which allows NHS patients from across London to sign up to its practice for digital consultations on an app, via the out-of-area patient registration scheme.

The health secretary has said he is a patient of Babylon, and that the company is ‘taking the pressure off the NHS’.

However, GP leaders have declared that they ‘cannot have confidence’ in Mr Hancock if he continues to publicly support Babylon and the Labour Party has complained to the Prime Minister about his links to the private provider.