AccuRX, the company that had provided free software for GPs to contact patients since the start of the pandemic, has announced it will charge users in 2021 for features introduced to support them during Covid-19.
Since the start of March 2020, more than 3,500 practices have taken to using the AccuRx free software, which enabled them to switch to remote consultations almost overnight in the first weeks of the pandemic.
In an email sent to users this week, AccuRx said that from January 2021 a free version (to be named AccuRx Lite) will remain available, but features added after March 2020 to support GPs during the pandemic will become part of its new premium AccuRx Plus version.
These features include batch messaging and appointment reminders, patient triaging, video and SMS Plus (which allows documents to be sent via text).
GP leaders have called for commissioners to fund the software for practices.
AccuRx told Pulse: ‘As our adoption has grown, our costs have too, and we need to become a sustainable business that can start tackling other communication challenges in healthcare.
‘We’re now facing the biggest barrier to technology in healthcare – there are no budget lines for genuinely new innovations.’
NHS England has largely been pushing for digital consultations, despite its ‘reminder’ this week that GPs should still offer face-to-face appointments where necessary. Figures have shown nine in 10 GPs wish to continue with remote consultations
AccuRx will stagger this transition over six months to grant enough time for ‘CCGs to procure AccuRx Plus before any features are restricted’. In the email to users, it said where local commissioners cannot provide funding, PCNs and federations will be able to buy.
Dr Farah Jameel, IT lead for the BMA’s GP Committee, said: ‘CCGs are responsible for providing practices with the IT infrastructure they need to deliver care to patients. It should never be the case that practices find themselves without this resource, especially as the Government indicates that online consultations are here to stay.’
Dr Jameel added: ‘It’s no good for the Government and NHSEI to promise patients easier and swifter access to healthcare without following through with the investment and infrastructure needed to deliver this. If they are serious about boosting online consultation they must provide CCGs with sufficient funds to purchase the user-friendly and secure digital systems that GP practices need.
‘If the NHS is only willing to rely on freebies from external organisations then there is little hope for the future of the digital NHS.’
Dr Andy Whittamore, a GP in Portsmouth, said: ‘Losing this technology will be a major risk to patients who may be not be able to, or may not want to come into surgery, and will prevent us from keeping our staff safe.
‘Most GPs and other clinicians that I speak to would like to keep remote and video consultations as an option and do not relish losing it entirely.’