The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced £240 million in funding this year to help GP practices in England adopt digital telephone technology and online tools.
It said this is being done to ensure patients will be able to contact their GPs for appointments for more quickly and easily, removing what it referred to as the ‘8am scramble’.
In addition, the role of receptionists is to be expanded to make them ‘care navigators’ who will gather information to make sure patients are directed to the most suitable healthcare professional.
DHSC provided no further details of the technology to be adopted, but highlighted the capability of digital telephony to provide patients with call back options and direct routing to the right person.
It also said it will be integrated with clinical systems so practice staff can quickly identify patients from their phone numbers.
Freeing up phones
Minister for Health Neil O’Brien said: “Where GPs have already moved over to these new technologies we see they free up the phones, making it much easier for people to get through to their general practice team.
“As well as being more convenient for patients, these really easy to use digital tools allow a lot of patients to get the help they need without ever needing to go in for an appointment, which will help cut waiting lists.
“Investing £240 million in these modern tools and the help GPs need to move onto them will make things more convenient for patients, but also make the workload more manageable for general practice teams.”
Update: DHSC has published a Delivery plan for recovering access to primary care that emphasises the importance of the investment in digital telephony, and says this will come with spending on the digital infrastructure between GPs and community pharmacies.
"NHS England will work with community pharmacy suppliers and general practice IT suppliers to develop and deliver interoperable digital solutions," it says. "These will streamline referrals, provide additional access to relevant clinical information from the GP record, and share structured updates quickly and efficiently following a pharmacy consultation back into the GP patient record."