Free NHS wifi is now available across 95% of GP practices in England, NHS Digital has announced.
Free internet connection is available in 6,749 GP practices and 212 acute, mental health and community NHS trusts – 98% of NHS trusts – across England.
NHS Digital said that the ten remaining CCGs and four trusts that do not yet offer the service in their areas are ‘all underway with their own procurements and set to be live this year’.
Initially, NHS Digital said that GP practices would offer free wifi by December 2017, with secondary care providers to follow in 2018.
However, only 43% of GP practices offered free wifi as of March last year.
Co-chair of the Practice Management Network Steve Williams said: ‘The original plan was that NHS wifi would be available in all practices by the end of December 2017, with the rest of the NHS being completed by early spring of 2019. Clearly that ambitious target has not been achieved.
‘However, given that all practices will be offering services via the NHS App by the 1st July 2019, it is imperative that all practices have efficient and compliant wifi to deal with this inniative.’
An NHS Digital spokesperson said: ‘The formal completion target for the implementation of free NHS wifi was stated in the ministerial commitment, which was for wifi rollout to be completed in 95% of GP Practices and trusts across England by March 31st 2019.
‘This target was met for primary care and surpassed for secondary care.’
They added that a small number of CCGs were unable to meet this completion target for a variety of CCG-specific reasons but are due to complete their rollout by the end of 2019.
In a statement on its website, NHS Digital said that the remaining 2% of trusts that do not currently provide free wifi ‘have experienced delays due to wider network changes’ but will also offer it by December 2019.
Benefits to patients and staff
Jo Panter, practice manager at Gloucester House Medical Centre and Old Trafford Medical Practice in Manchester, said: ‘Practice staff have found having the wifi to enable laptops and tablets to be used for meetings has made a really positive impact and has changed our approach to the structure of practice meetings.’
She added: ‘We have noticed an increase in the number of hits the practice has had on our website and our Facebook page from patients reviewing our service while they wait to see the doctor.
‘As a result, we will be enhancing our use of online services to communicate with our patients.’
NHS Digital said that the benefits of free NHS wifi include helping patients look after their own health better, keep ‘injured children entertained in A&E’, and increase patient satisfaction.
It also allows NHS staff to work ‘more remotely around offices’ without having to sit at their desk and to share notes with colleagues more easily, NHS Digital added.
NHS Digital clinical lead for the wifi programme Mark Nicholas said: ‘It’s great to have so many patients already connected to free wifi, empowering them to take more control over their own health through access to digital services. I’m really pleased that the service is being used for such a wide variety of health reasons.’
Earlier this month, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock announced that all NHS organisations will soon be upgraded with fibre-optic broadband, as part of the long-term plan.
This will help doctors offer more digital services, such as video consultations.
A version of this article first appeared on our sister publication Healthcare Leader.
Additional reporting by Costanza Pearce.