The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has said that all GP practices across England will soon be equipped with digital phone systems.
It expects every practice in the country to have a new system in place by the end of this financial year, supported by a £240 million investment under which more than 1,000 practices have already signed up to switch from analogue systems.
Practices on older systems will receive an average investment of £60,000 each to move onto digital phones combined with updated digital tools and support for the transition.
DHSC said the benefits will include callers not being met by an engaged tone, staff being able to direct calls to the right professional, and the provision of more options and help.
It will also help to end the 8am rush for appointments that occurs in many GP practices, DHSC claimed, as it supports a commitment made in the Primary Care Recovery Plan that patients in urgent need should be assessed and given appointments on the same day. In non-urgent cases they should be offered appointments within two weeks or referred to NHS 111 or a local pharmacy.
DHSC said that successful care navigation can help direct 40% of requests more effectively and speed up appointments for those who need them.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “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 one thousand 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.”
DHSC also pointed to other measures to improve primary care, including a consultation, soon to be launched, on enabling registered pharmacy technicians to supply and administer medicines; and another looking at how dental hygienists and therapists can be better support to provide additional care to patients.