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30 March 2016

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IT funding of at least £440 million demanded for general practice

General practice must get its fair share of IT funding to have a positive impact on patients, the head of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has demanded.

Professor Maureen Baker is calling for at least £440 million of the Department of Health’s £4 billion IT infrastructure cash for general practice.

In a letter to England’s Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt she said the RCGP had championed the importance of good IT for the success of general practice and the wider health service.

She said: “Effective IT systems can enable the use of video or instant message consultations which improve access to family doctors and help continuity of care, help streamline the referrals process and avoid unnecessary errors, allow patients to book appointments more easily and enable patients with long term conditions to monitor their own health.”

However, she told Mr Hunt that meeting his target of 10% of patients accessing general practice online by 2017 “will be utterly unachievable without a real financial commitment to improvement.”

She said it was essential that “a substantial proportion” of the fund earmarked for IT infrastructure went to general practice to get the plan from the drawing board to reality.

She called for £4 billion to be invested in IT in general practice, in line with the overall target that it gets 11% of the overall NHS budget.

Baker said general practice was the “bedrock” of the NHS and provides 90% of patient contacts.

She added: “It is therefore vital that our service receives its fair share of properly funded, functioning and efficient IT to ensure a smooth and safe experience for patients.”

She called for an injection of fundsto help support new modes of interaction between patients and surgeries: be that through accelerating the ability to book appointments online, making it easier to order repeat prescriptions over the internet or enabling patients to access their electronic records.”

The investment could help enable a step change in the level of use of virtual consultations, she said.

It would improve access to GP services and allow GPs to set up three-way online consultations with specialists, avoiding unnecessary referrals, added Baker.