Digital phonelines for all GPs by March

More than 1,000 general practices sign up for £240m digital upgrade that aims to make booking GP appointments much easier. 

Earlier this year, Health Secretary Steve Barclay announced £240m of government funding to upgrade GPs to digital phonelines, with receptionists retrained as ‘care navigators’ to help guide callers to the help they need more quickly. It’s now been announced that more than 1,000 practices have signed up to the digitisation project, which is expected to be completed by March.

Photo by Nenad Stojkovic

It’s not always easy to get an appointment with a nurse or doctor. Analogue systems can leave patients on hold and there’s often a bit of a scramble first thing each weekday morning. Figures that that more than 5m people wait more than a fortnight to see a GP.

However, GPonline reports that leaders in the profession have warned that tech solutions alone won’t improve how quickly and easily we can access a doctor. Others claim that issues need to be addressed such as time-consuming bureaucracy within the NHS and the pressures imposed on it by a lack of social care more widely. 

But what does the tech upgrade offer? Modern digital telephones are easy to use and can include features that help in accessing care. Callers can be quickly directed to the right professional to assist their specific needs.  

Patients will be able to find out exactly how their request will be handled on the day they call, rather than being told to call back later. Where there is urgent need, they will be assessed and be given appointments on the same day. For non-urgent needs, appointments should be offered within two weeks, or patients will be referred to the NHS 111 helpline to a local pharmacy. 

Online systems will also be improved for those who prefer not to call – which will also ease the burden on those using the phoneline. 

The digitisation project is part of the Prime Minister’s primary care recovery plan to improve patient access to care, announced in May.  

Steve Barclay, Health and Social Care Secretary, says: ‘We are delivering on our promises to make access to GP appointments easier while boosting staffing numbers. 

‘With the support of NHS England, general practices, pharmacies and dental surgeries, backed by significant investment from the government, we will bring an end to the 8am scramble for appointments.  

‘I’m delighted that over 1,000 general practice surgeries will soon benefit from high tech designed to make booking an appointment as easy as possible for patients for years to come.’

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