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GPs invited to turn off online consultations ‘to manage demand’

GPs invited to turn off online consultations ‘to manage demand’

GPs using the online consultation system provided by eConsult will be able to restrict patient requests as the company introduces a feature for turning the system off outside of core hours.

Practices will initially only be able to switch to an ‘in-hours’ service, covering Monday-Friday, 8am-6.30pm.

But the online consultation company is also working on introducing the option to turn off eConsult on an ad hoc basis, as well as offering set hours for the start and end time in which patients can send in online forms.

GPs from eConsult said the new set of ‘demand management features’ was born out of recognition of how ‘overwhelmed’ the GP workforce is currently.

It follows recent reports that GP practices wanting to turn off e-consultation forms at weekends and evenings were facing ‘resistance’ from the digital provider and CCGs.

NHS England advised GPs earlier this year that they should allow patients to make requests at any time and warned against switching off online consultation systems out of hours.

The advice was published in a standard operating procedure – which has since been withdrawn.

Contractually GPs are not required to offer e-consultations at all at the present time. However, before the pandemic the BMA and NHS England agreed that it will eventually become contractual for practices to offer online consultations during core hours.

In an announcement today, eConsult invited GP practices to register their interest in activating the new ‘in-hours’ function that will appear on their practice ‘consultation hours’ setting page – noting that the function is currently in the rollout phase.

Dr Murray Ellender, a GP and CEO of eConsult, said: ‘As the demand in general practice continues to surge, we know that it is vital for us to work with practices to continue to optimise GP time and resource. This is why it is critical that we work flexibly with practices to educate patients on how, and when, it is best to engage with the eConsult consultation service, versus when to utilise the self-service functions.   

‘By integrating new demand management features today, we are continuing to deliver on our commitment to support the UK’s hard-working GPs, giving them greater control of their workload day to day.’

Speaking to Pulse, Professor Clare Gerada, non-executive director  at eConsult, added: ‘We recognise how overwhelmed GPs are and how much work GPs are doing, how we’ve opened up an avenue of need and how it is important GPs remain able to do their work safely.’



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Vinci Ho 29 July, 2021 4:24 pm

Common sense and reality must prevail .
You just cannot expect the current number of working GPs can cover these hours .

Dr N 29 July, 2021 4:39 pm

We did it uninvited by taking the link off our website months ago. Will never use it again

Andrew Jackson 29 July, 2021 5:28 pm

The original pitch was these medical
issues were going to come to us anyway and econsult just helped us handle these more efficiently with even some automated diversion that actually saved some appointments.
It appears everyone (including the company themselves) have realised that was complete rubbish and a lot of this is new work.
They have some uses for administrative queries for information collection but for clinical issues they are overwhelming us.
A sensible decision that needs to be kept out of future contractual requirements.

A non 29 July, 2021 5:44 pm

Very sensible ..just too easy to send a random message to your GP from a phone in bed at 11:58pm. When you ring this people the next day they either don’t answer, can hardly remember sending the message or feel a whole lot better now they’ve slept on it. Wont stop them sending another one next week though..some people just can’t get enough of it

Patrufini Duffy 29 July, 2021 6:28 pm

I am astonished that eConsult – linked to Arvind Madan and Clare Gerada (both of the Hurley Group) are profiteering from an augmentation of patient anxiety and the commercialism of General Practice. Absolutely unbelievable.

James Cuthbertson 29 July, 2021 7:25 pm

@Patrufini Duffy – I agree. Why is access always prioritised over continuity and quality? I suspect it’s because increasing access is virtually free, but having a well motivated and permanent workforce, well that’s going to need competent planning and money as well as incentives to commit long term to a position.

Keith Greenish 29 July, 2021 9:31 pm

No Dr Gerada you have not opened up an avenue of need, you have opened up an avenue of want, and needless want at that.

Reply moderated
Mr Marvellous 30 July, 2021 8:41 am

We can partially turn off something we don’t need to be doing at all?


A S 30 July, 2021 9:28 pm

Maybe a better title would be “eConsult ensure GPs to keep system switched on 8am-6:30pm even when overwhelmed by demand”.

AccuRx have a setting that lets you switch it off whenever you want and I’m sure other smart system providers will also add this feature.

Eithne MacRae 31 July, 2021 9:56 pm

So disappointed. Thought the title meant we could turn it off. I’m still answering them at midnight. Can’t go on. Workload intolerable.

Talvinder Ghag 1 August, 2021 12:19 am

I’m glad our practice doesn’t use eConsult.

James Weems 1 August, 2021 11:14 pm

Went in hours only many months ago. Demand still there. Obviously.