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100% of GP practices working towards digital telephony, says health secretary

by Anna Colivicchi
23 October 2023

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Every GP practice in England is now working towards adopting digital telephony, the health secretary has said.

Speaking during a debate on access to primary care in the House of Commons last week, Steve Barclay told MPs that 100% of practices ‘want to put digital telephony in place if they have not already done so’.

This year’s GP contract imposition stipulated that GP practices must procure cloud-based telephony once their current contracts expire.

The primary care recovery plan, published in May, announced £240m of funding for practices to ‘embrace latest technology’, with a focus on replacing old analogue phone systems.

Mr Barclay said: ‘Through that £240 million, we have 100% adoption from GP practices that want to take part in receiving those funds and putting digital telephony in place if they have not already done so.

‘This includes call-back, which allows people to know where they are in the queue, and links to online booking, which allows us to maximise the 31,000 additional roles that we have put into primary care so that people can see the specialist that they need.’

MPs pointed out that despite this, their constituents still struggle to access a GP over the phone when they need it due to structural issues.

Tan Dhesi, Labour MP for Slough, said: ‘People are finding it nigh-on impossible to see their GP when they need to.

‘Labour has pledged to guarantee face-to-face appointments when people want them by training more NHS GPs but, as my constituents point out to me, under the Tories, a two-tier healthcare system is emerging where some are forced to pay to be seen quicker while those that cannot afford it are left behind in agony.’

Conservative MP for Aylesbury Rob Butler said: ‘We have some absolutely fantastic GPs and some brilliant services being delivered […] however, there are still challenges for constituents to get through to their GP surgery to make an appointment in the first place.’

In August, NHS England’s primary care director Dr Amanda Doyle said that having a new telephone system ‘is not the answer on its own’, and that it must be combined with other digital tools to improve patient experience.

‘What we’re talking about when we talk about modern general practice access is the combination of cloud-based telephony, high quality digital triage and flow tools, and high quality communications platforms.

‘That actually changes the operating model. It’s not just about telephones. What we do know about telephones is that being able to properly signpost, queue, call back through phones makes a difference to patients,’ Dr Doyle added.

Earlier this year, it was revealed that almost half of GPs who have already implemented ‘modern’ access measures prescribed by the recovery plan say it has not helped improve access.

A version of this story first appeared on our sister publication Pulse.