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New general practice contract highlights importance of tech

A new five-year contract for general practice across England will see billions of extra investment for improved access to family doctors, expanded services at local practices and longer appointments for patients who need them.

NHS England will also fund an addition of 20,000 more staff to help GP practices work together as part of a local ‘primary care network’.  The new recruits will be pharmacists, physios, paramedics, physician associates and social prescribing support workers with an aim to free up GPs to spend more time with patients.

As part of the contract there is a focus on additional funding for IT which will allow both patients and practices to benefit from the latest digital technologies.

The contract aims for all patients to have the right to digital-first primary care, including web and video consultations in 2021 and for patients to order repeat prescriptions electronically from April 2019 and have digital access to their full records from 2020.

Dr Nikki Kanani, a GP and NHS England’s Acting Medical Director for Primary Care said: “This Contract gives five-year funding clarity and certainty for practices while giving patients improved services. Primary medical and community care resources will increase by £4.5 billion by 2023-24 and rise as a share of the overall NHS budget. And this agreement confirms how much of this new investment will stabilise and transform primary care through general practice and the evolution of Primary Care Networks. It’s a game changer and signals the start of a new era for general practice.”

Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair said:“We are confident that these widespread changes – the most significant in 15 years – will deliver the best not just for GPs across England, but also for the patients they treat on a daily basis. Last month, the Government announced its Long-Term Plan for the health service, and our negotiations with NHS England were key to shaping this vision for general practice, as is evident in many of the details revealed today.”

“Support and funding for Primary Care Networks mean practices can work together, led by a single GP, and employ additional staff to provide a range of services in the local area, ensuring patients have ready access to the right healthcare professional, and helping reduce workload pressures on GPs. This significant expansion in the workforce, which will eventually see over 20,000 healthcare staff based in networks across England, will also be expected to focus on some of the Long-Term Plan’s commitments, such as support for care home residents and the earlier identification of people with cancer or cardio-vascular disease.”

“While the way it is funded will change, networks will continue to offer evening and weekend appointments to all patients, and as part of this effort to improve access, practices will have to make one appointment available a day available for every 3,000 patients on their list to be directly booked through NHS 111.”

“The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has made his ambitions around technology in general practice clear, and GPs recognise the potential convenience that new systems can offer to many patients. We have therefore agreed a realistic timescale to improve digital access for patients, building on improved infrastructure to firstly  be able to book an appointment and access to their own records online, before progressing to video consultations for all in 2021. We will also set in train an important programme to digitalise all remaining paper records, so freeing up much needed space in GP practices as well as delivering a comprehensive electronic patient record.”

“And while patients will now have access to their own records digitally, we have secured £20m a year to cover the costs of subject access requests, which GPs and their teams have been having to complete unfunded since the introduction of GDPR legislation almost a year ago.

“The Long-Term Plan established spending for the next 10 years, and after listening to the BMA for the first time, NHS England committed to increase funding for primary and community care at a greater rate than the wider NHS budget. After years of derisory pay uplifts for staff and tightening financial pressures on practices, this means we have been able to negotiate a five-year deal guaranteeing investment that covers pay and expenses, and at least matches predicted inflation. “Crucially, this investment has enabled us to fulfil one of our key aims by once and for all banishing the personal expense of indemnity cover, with a state-backed scheme set to begin, as promised, in April. This will mean that all GPs and practice staff, both in and out of hours, will be covered and represents a major change, freeing GPs from the significant risk of rapidly rising indemnity costs.”