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NHS 111 scheme to directly book GP appointments begins with slow uptake

NHS 111 has been slow to fill appointments that GPs have made available under a recently launched direct booking scheme, with practices filling the slots with urgent patients.

The scheme, which offered practices a one-off payment of 70p per patient to allow 111 call handlers to book a GP appointment directly, was taken up by 339 GP practices in North-East of England, 89% of the total.

But GP leaders tell Pulse that in their experience uptake has been slow, with many appointments left vacant by the service until one hour beforehand, when they can be rebooked by the practice.

Newcastle and North Tyneside LMC chief executive Dr George Rae told Pulse the scheme wasn’t seeing a great deal of uptake yet, though he did say it was early and there was ample demand to fill appointments at short notice.

He said: ‘At my surgery, we had two appointments available and when it became apparent that they weren’t going to be booked in by NHS 111 we booked them in [as emergency appointments]. 

‘The appointments were there and the first point of call for them would be NHS 111 as there is payment to the partnerships across Newcastle and North Tyneside to make appointments available.’

A spokesperson for the North East Urgent and Emergency Care Network vanguard, one of eight urgent and emergency care vanguards across England, told Pulse it didn’t currently have a record of how many appointments had been booked directly from 111.

The spokesperson added: ’This is something that we’re working on and are in development talks with the developers of GP IT systems about providing this.

‘GP practices can take back any appointments not used by the 111 direct booking a minimum of one hour before the appointment time is due.’