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Covid-19: GP practices told to free up appointments for NHS 111 direct bookings

by Costanza Pearce
15 April 2020

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GPs practices must free up appointments for direct booking by NHS 111’s Covid-19 assessment service from today.

GP contractual regulations have been amended to state that practices must make at least one appointment per 500 patients available for direct booking from NHS 111 each day – effective yesterday (14 April) until 30 June.

But this can be increased, at the discretion of NHS England and the health secretary, ‘in some cases extending to the whole appointments book’, NHS England said.

The requirement is one of a number of contractual changes due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic outlined in NHS England’s latest preparedness letter for GPs, published yesterday.

Other contract updates include a temporary amendment to the definition of ‘core hours’ to include bank holidays and enabling NHS England to suspend certain contract terms during the pandemic.

The letter said: ‘The GMS and PMS regulations, and APMS directions, have been amended to… increase the minimum number of appointments that practices must make available for 111 direct booking.’

NHS England said that following NHS 111 triage ‘there will be a significant cohort of patients who are unwell enough that they need to see a clinician and many of those patients will need to be referred to their GP’.

The letter said: ‘Previously, practices were only required to make one appointment per 3,000 registered patients per day available for direct booking by NHS 111.

‘The amended Regulations give [NHS England] and the Secretary of State the power to increase that number, in some cases extending to the whole appointments book.

‘From 30 March 2020 until 30 June 2020 all practices in England must make 1 appointment per 500 registered patients per day available for direct booking by NHS 111.’

Speaking in a live webinar last Thursday, NHS England digital lead Dr Masood Nazir said: ‘Up until now, only about 60% of practices in the country have had GP Connect enabled for GP contractual obligations of allowing 111 to book into an appointment slot in their GP surgery.

‘Clearly with the pressure on the national service increasing, what we need to do is to allow clinical assessment to occur and where appropriate, the patient to be referred back into the GP practice for further action or assessment.’

A previous GP letter had outlined that GPs will be expected to carry out ‘proactive’ monitoring of some patients with coronavirus symptoms once they have been triaged by the Covid clinical assessment service (CCAS).