GP practices should adjust the number of appointment slots that are kept open for direct booking from NHS 111 to meet demand – which could mean fewer slots than previously stipulated.
In a letter to practices, NHS England said temporary pandemic changes to the GP contract mandating practices keep one appointment open per 500 patients per day were being extended.
But it added: ‘GP practices are asked to make sufficient slots available for NHS 111 to refer into; they should assess the use of the slots each day and adjust the number to meet demand. This could be fewer than 1 in 500.’
NHS England said the measures ‘remain necessary to support phase 3 of the NHS response, in particular the important role NHS 111 is playing in reducing the face-to-face transmission risk for patients and NHS staff.’
NHS England reiterated that the slots ‘which will be booked following clinical triage’ are ‘not appointments in a traditional sense’; ‘instead practices should clinically assess the patients remotely and arrange their ongoing management’.
It added: ‘This ensures that only those who need further care (in-person or via telephone / video consultation) are presenting to services, and they are managed as appropriate for their clinical condition.’
The news comes as NHS England is currently in the process of introducing a system of asking patients to phone NHS 111 before attending A&E from this winter, which is expected to see call handlers divert patients to GP practices.
However, NHS England’s letter did not refer to this programme.
The letter also extended the pandemic suspensions of Friends and Family Test requirements; as well as the need to get patient consent to transfer them to electronic repeat dispensing.