‘No more engaged tones or 8am rush’ – government pledges digital telephony for all GPs by March

Health secretary announces that more than a thousand surgeries have already signed up to benefit from upgrade programme, which is intended to reduce the need for patients to keep calling

The government has pledged that all GP surgeries across England will have installed digital telephony systems by March next year – meaning patients will no longer hear engaged tones or be required to keep calling back.

Eliminating the use of analogue voice systems – that cannot support queues of callers – is intended to “put an end to the 8am rush” when practices open and patients wishing to book an urgent appointment are required to keep calling until they get through.

The rollout of digital telephony for GPs across England still using outdated systems is backed by a government funding pot of £240m. An average of £60,000 will be provided to each individual surgery to support the “move onto digital phones combined with updated digital tools and support for the transition”.

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The Department of Health and Social Care said that about 1,000 practics have already signed up to take advantage of the upgrade programme. This would equate to backing of around £60m – a quarter of the available funding package.

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.”

Sam Trendall

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