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Practices required to offer a quarter of appointments online by July

GP practices must make at least 25% of their appointments available for online booking by July, as part of the new GP contract.

The contract, negotiated by the BMA and NHS England, said digital access to GP services should increase for all patients, with the hope that this will help practices manage workload.

This comes after the NHS long-term plan pledged digital appointments to all patients, and said digital GP models will help grow GP numbers.

Under the new arrangements, additional funding for IT will be made available to offer patients ‘the right to digital-first primary care’, including web and video consultations available to all by April 2021 and the possibility to order repeat prescriptions electronically from April 2019.

Other IT changes mentioned in the contract include:

  • Possibility for practices to share records when a patient registers or de-registers
  • Digitisation of paper medical records
  • Patients able to access their record, including the possibility to add their own information from April 2020, with new registrants having full online access to prospective data from April 2019
  • Patients to be given online access to correspondence by April 2020, as the system will move to digital by default
  • End of fax machines use for NHS or patient communications by 2020

All the changes will become contractual requirements from April 2020 and April 2021, NHS England said.

BMA’s GP committee chair Richard Vautrey said: ‘The health secretary has made his ambitions around technology in general practice clear, and GPs recognise the potential convenience that new systems can offer to many patients. 

‘We have therefore agreed a realistic timescale to improve digital access for patients, building on improved infrastructure to firstly be able to book an appointment and access to their own records online, before progressing to video consultations for all in 2021.

‘We will also set in train an important programme to digitalise all remaining paper records, so freeing up much needed space in GP practices as well as delivering a comprehensive electronic patient record.’ 

Last year, NHS England said it was looking at offering patients online access to GP records from a certain date onwards to avoid ‘an information breach’ in releasing historical notes, as part of talks to realise a Government commitment.

According to NHS Digital’s figures, the number of patients who have signed up to online GP services almost doubled in 2017/18, with nearly 14m people using the virtual services to book GP appointments, order repeat prescriptions and view their records. 

GPs were previously told they would be required to increase the number of patients using online services to book appointments, as part of their contract.  

 Find all the headlines from the 2019/20 GP contract here…