Doctors also set 30% target for amount of patients using online services
The contract for GPs across England for the coming financial year features a range of measures designed to promote the use of digital tools and data, including a £10m investment in driving uptake of the Electronic Referrals Service (e-RS).
As of December, the online service allowing patients or their doctors to book appointments with hospital consultants has a utilisation rate of 62%. This rose somewhat over the course of 2017 from the rate of around 54% at which it had remained fairly static for several years.
But it is still a long way off the 100% usage rate that the NHS wants to achieve by October.
To help increase uptake, NHS England’s 2018/19 contract for GPs includes the investment of a one-off sum of £10m, which will be given directly to practices under a system based on “weighted patient numbers”. The amount given to each practice will equate to 17p per patient.
“[There are] large differences [in utilisation] between local areas and between practices. Programme resources are supporting these areas with their local project delivery,” she said. “Where there are concerns from local GPs, the e-RS team will meet with them, to understand those concerns and jointly develop and deliver action plans to address any issues. In addition, the national e-RS implementation team is working on national products to raise awareness and understanding of e-RS.”
NHS England said that it wishes to take a supportive, rather than punitive approach to promoting e-RS adoption, “with any contractual action being a last resort”. Practices will not be punished for failing to fully implement the system “where services are not available to refer into, or IT infrastructure is incapable of delivering an effective platform”.
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Elsewhere in the contract, NHS England promises to help drive GPs towards a goal of at least 30% of patients accessing one or more services online. Practices that have less than 10% of patients registered for online services, such as appointment-booking, “will work with NHS England to help them achieve greater use” of their digital offering.
The NHS also intends to finish rolling out the Electronic Prescription Service this year. It has set a target usage rate of 25% for the delivery of repeat prescriptions.
In 2018/19 NHS Digital will begin working with the General Practitioners Committee (GPC) to “develop a framework for the delivery of a new general-practice data service”. This service will replace the incumbent General Practice Extraction Service for information collection.
“The new service will improve capacity and functionality, reduce cost burdens, and ensure data-collection is appropriate and meaningful,” NHS England said. “It is anticipated that any new system will be operational from 2019/20 at the earliest.”
Dr Arvind Madan, NHS England director of primary care, added: “This new contract is positive news for patients and GPs, especially the focus on digital solutions. This will help GPs focus their time and resources on the areas that matter most to their patients.”
NHS England’s total annual investment commissioning general practice services is in excess of £10bn. An additional £256.3m will be put in this year, with the goal being to take investment to more than £12bn a year by 2020/21.
The new contract for GPs comes into effect on 1 April.