GP practices which have not yet transitioned from analogue to digital telephony must sign a contract by mid-December in order to receive funding.
NHS England has urged ICBs to contact all local GP practices who remain on analogue systems, which amounts to around 20% of practices nationally.
According to NHSE’s letter, the 15 December deadline for signing a digital telephony contract is to ensure practices receive funding for the transition within this financial year.
The funding, announced in the primary care recovery plan earlier this year, will not be available beyond the end of March 2024 and practices ‘will need to bear the costs themselves’.
The recovery plan stated that an average of £60,000 per practice would be provided to support the move to digital telephony – this includes any incumbent supplier costs as well as implementation costs such as purchasing digital headsets.
Funding has been distributed to ICBs based on the number of analogue practices in their area, but if any practices miss the mid-December deadline, NHS England will ‘adjust the allocated funding’ accordingly.
Last month, the health secretary confirmed that every GP practice in England is now working towards digital telephony, and NHSE’s letter today confirmed that all remaining analogue practices had signed up ‘in principle’ in July to make the transition.
In her letter to ICBs, national primary care director Dr Amanda Doyle said: ‘To guarantee funding, eligible practices will need to have signed a digital telephony contract by 15 December 2023.
‘This allows enough time for implementation and any installation work needed to go live before the end of March 2024 and ensures that funding is spent this financial year.
‘Funding is not available for digital telephony beyond this financial year. Practices moving to digital telephony beyond these dates will need to bear the costs themselves.
‘All practices will have to move by 2025, when the PSTN network will be switched off across the UK.’
Dr Doyle asked ICBs to distribute a letter explaining this deadline to analogue practices, and to continue ‘providing collaborative support with all stages of the transition process, including business change and implementation’.
The letter urges relevant practices to contact their ICBs ‘as a matter of urgency to ensure participation in the programme’.
In an exclusive interview with Pulse over the summer, Dr Doyle said that having a new telephone system ‘is not the answer on its own’, and that it must be combined with other digital tools to improve patient experience.
And in July, a Pulse survey found that almost half of GPs who have already implemented ‘modern’ access measures prescribed by the recovery plan say that it has not helped improve access.