More than 1,000 general practices have signed up to upgrade their phone systems from analogue to digital as part of the government’s plans to modernise NHS primary care services, according to an update from the Department of Health and Social Care on progress made around the primary care recovery plan ambitions.
DHSC highlights the role of ‘care navigators’ to help by triaging calls, stating an aim to “direct 40 percent of requests more effectively”. The update shares how training programmes have started for care navigators, “with funding for 6,500 places – the equivalent of one member of staff per practice who can then pass on the training to colleagues”.
The overall aim laid out in the primary care recovery plan is for all GP surgeries in England to have digital phone lines by March 2024, with health secretary Steve Barclay commenting: “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.”
Responding to the latest update, Professor Kamila Hawthorne, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, stated: “An updated digital telephony system will be an asset to many practices who are currently working with outdated analogue systems which are hindrance to both GPs, their reception staff, and patients. We all want an appointments booking system that is streamlined, efficient and allows GPs to focus on delivering care to their patients.
“However, while this is an encouraging step forward, there is still a long way to go, and we must not be under any illusion that this will resolve the fundamental challenges facing general practice.”
Professor Hawthorne added: “Alongside the pledges to modernise outdated systems and attract more medical students into general practice, we desperately need to see concrete plans for improved retention initiatives that will encourage existing GPs to stay in the profession. New digital phonelines will be of little benefit to patients if there simply aren’t enough fully qualified GPs on the end of the line to provide appointments.”
In our deep dive from earlier this month, we explored findings from the Fuller stocktake which showed that the wider primary care team could be “much more effectively harnessed” to support patient access to primary care, with community pharmacy and dentistry noted as particular examples.
We covered the GP access recovery plan here, highlighting the role of digital including plans to expand NHS App functionality and building large multidisciplinary teams with a digital and transformation lead in place to help practices focus on new tools and modernisation.
Earlier in the year, we were joined by Dr Minal Bakhai, director for primary care transformation at NHS England, for a discussion on the role technology will play in transforming general practice.