GP practices should only direct patients to NHS 111 in ‘exceptional circumstances’, despite new contractual requirements, and must inform their ICB when doing so, NHS England has said.
Under GP contract changes, coming into force from next week (15 May), practices are contractually obliged to offer an ‘appropriate response’ to patients the first time they get in contact and direct them to the right service.
GP leaders had warned the new requirement would ‘likely result in practices diverting extremely large numbers of patients to 111 and A&E for fear of being held in contract breach, due to the unclear meaning of this clause’.
But the recovery plan has now made clear that practices should inform their local ICB primary care team when they need to divert patients to 111, which ‘should only be in exceptional circumstances.’
The document said: ‘Practices should inform their local commissioner (ICB primary care team) when they need to divert patients to 111, which should only be in exceptional circumstances.’
According to NHS England, the recovery plan ‘focuses on access to make it easier for the public to contact practices when they are open and get a timely response’.
‘The 2023/24 contract requires practices to assess patient requests on the day – they should not normally be asking patients to call NHS 111 when the practice is open. As this plan delivers, we expect it to relieve pressures on 111 during the day,’ the document added.
The ambition of a move to a ‘Modern General Practice Access’, is to ‘tackle the 8am rush, provide rapid assessment and response, and avoid asking patients to ring back another day to book an appointment’, NHS England added.
As part of plan, the Government announced £240m funding for practices in England to ‘embrace latest technology’. However, practices will need to sign up to the scheme by 1 July to receive support by NHS England.
This had already been stipulated in the contract imposition, which said that practices will be required to procure this technology from a national framework, called Better Purchasing Framework.
The recovery plan said that the commissioner will support the transition to digital telephony for practices that commit by 1 July to the move, including procurement, contract negotiation and financial support for new equipment, transition costs and training.
A analogue telephony that implements Modern General Practice Access, can expect an average of £60,000 to support the move to digital telephony, digital tools, and transition support over the next two years, NHS England said.
The document said: ‘Our ambition is to transition at least 1,000 practices before the end of 2023, so around 65% of all practices will be using this technology, and we expect to transition all other practices who sign up by the end of March 2024.’
The Government also said that as part of the plan it will enable patients to obtain prescription medicine for earache and sore throat from the pharmacist without a GP prescription.