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General practice phone capacity set to expand with new NHS deal

by Jess Hacker
8 December 2021

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Practices are now able to apply for a new telephony solution which will increase telephone capacity ‘at no additional cost’ to the practice, NHS England has confirmed.

Announced today (8 December), NHSE said the new functionality will use the Microsoft Teams application already provided to practices.

It will allow staff to use Teams to make outbound-only calls independently of their existing telephone system, leaving those lines open for incoming calls.

General practices will keep their current telephony supplier and associated number in place to continue receiving calls from patients.

The time-limited deal – which was agreed between NHSX and Microsoft and was announced in a letter to practices outlining temporary changes to the GP contract – will expire on 30 April 2023.

The new telephony system was first announced in October as part of the NHSE winter access plan.

A spokesperson for the Institute of General Practice Management (IGPM) had said at the time: ‘A change in the telephone system will not mean there are more appointments. Being a number in a queue is no more satisfactory than hearing an engaged tone.’

They added that ‘practices do not have the staff or premises to increase the number of appointments offered’, requesting that money is directed to increase staffing and reducing bureaucracy.

QOF and IIF payments may be delayed

NHSE also warned in its letter that payment for the Quality Outcomes Framework (QOF) and the Investment and Impact Fund (IIF) ‘may be made later than usual’ as ‘the proposed changes to the scheme are being made towards the end of the year’.

The temporary contract changes outlined that:

  • GPs should focus on the four existing QOF vaccination and immunisation indicators, the two cervical screening indicators, the register indicators and the eight prescribing indicators, which will be paid based on practice performance.
  • 46 QOF points for new indicators ‘where there is no historic performance to use as the basis for income protection’ will be reallocated to up the total points available for the prescribing indicators.
  • Remaining indicators will become income protected in a similar means to the one applied in 2020/21.

In regards to IIF, it said that the three flu immunisation indicators, and the appointment categorisation indicator continue to be paid based on PCN performance.

NHSE added that £62.4m will be allocated to PCNs as a ‘support payment’ offered on a weighted patient basis.

And £49.7m will be allocated to ‘a new binary IIF indicator’, paid on the basis of all practices within a PCN being signed up to the booster programme.

It reiterated that QOF and the IIF will restart in full from April 2022.

NHSE confirmed last week that it was reopening the sign-up window for Phase Three of the Covid-19 Vaccination Enhanced Service (ES).

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