GP practices will be incentivised to offer ‘online consultations’ to patients through a £45m funding pot as part of a new injection of IT funding announced in NHS England’s General Practice Forward View.
The measures to cut GP workload, increase practice efficiency and help patients self-care will also see CCGs’ budgets for general practice technology investment increased by more than 18%.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has previously championed the use of e-consulting technology to improve access, and the GP Forward View states: ‘From 2017/18 NHS England will launch a new programme to offer every practice in the country over the coming years support to adopt online consultation systems. Depending on uptake, there will be up to £45 million extra investment to support this.’
NHS England has also introduced new ‘core requirements’ for IT setting out what services practices should expect to have funded by their CCG through the increased budget.
By the end of 2016/17 practices should expect to be able to message individual patients directly, by SMS or over the internet. This comes after funding for the national NHSmail system was scrapped last year leaving practices at the whim of local CCGs’ priorities.
Other priorities for this year include:
- Access to specialist support on information governance, cyber security, data quality and an annual practice IT review.
- Capability to access patient records on mobile devices for home visits.
And one of the priorities for 2017/18 will see the e-referrals system, introduced to replace the unpopular Choose and Book, upgraded to allow two-way conversation between GPs and hospital specialists.
It will also ensure practice have access to:
- Alerts when an electronic referral response is received, or not, and referral support tools.
- Funding for the previously announced rollout of free wifi for patients and staff in all practices.
- Funding for training practices and patients to use the new digital tools.