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NHS England looking at helping patients to ‘switch GP provider’ online

Patients could be given the facility to switch their GP practice online under new plans to expand online access to GP services from NHS England.

The plans were revealed in papers being presented to the NHS England board meeting this week that aim to give patients the ‘ability to transact directly with the NHS’.

The paper looks at progress on digitising patient communications with GPs, a major aim for NHS England in 2014/15, including switching GP practices.

But the plans have been described as ‘bonkers’ by GP leaders.

The paper also reveals that after major concerns were raised by the RCGP and the BMA over plans to give patients access to their records online by March 2015, NHS England is looking at introducing a ‘time delay’ so GPs can manage how ‘certain test results are communicated’ in patient records.

The NHS England board paper says: ‘This commitment has been included in the 2014/15 GP contract and work is currently underway to define in detail what the “GP record” will constitute, for example how much historical data is meaningful and whether there is a time delay to allow a GP to “manage” how the impact of certain test results are communicated.’

The paper adds that as well as records access, they want to go further to digitise communications with GPs.

It says: ‘The aim is also to give people the ability to transact directly with the NHS using technologies that allow them to book and rearrange appointments, order repeat prescriptions, track the progress of test results, contact their GP or hospital electronically with a query, provide electronic feedback and even switch GP provider.’

Dr Kambiz Boomla, former chair of City and East London LMC and a GP in Tower Hamlets, London said letting patients change practice online was ‘bonkers’.

He said: ‘Where do I start? You’d have to get permission from the practice you’re changing to before you registered and I just can´t imagine how the practicalities of that would work. And then what would happen about arranging new patient checks? Then there´s the IT implementation.

‘And shouldn’t something like this be negotiated between the GPC and NHS England in any case? The whole practice boundary thing is a disaster and this could be even worse.’

Access to patient records and the abolition of practice boundaries will both be included in the new GP contract from April.

Dr Marie Louise Irvine, a GP in New Cross, London warned that the idea of switching GPs online could pose problems with transfer of medical records:

She said: ‘I’d need that to be explored and clarified. If a patient transfers and then decides to change again on a whim before their records have been switched, you could end up with records constantly in transit.

’In my practice we already have a very high turnover of patients and it can already be a problem as patients don´t understand that their records may not always follow them automatically.’