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IT suppliers and support services are not fit for purpose, say over 40% of practice staff

by Beth Gault
15 March 2023

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Almost half (42%) of GP practice staff say their IT suppliers and support services are not fit for purpose, which wastes doctors’ time and makes it harder to provide good patient care, a new RCGP report has found.

The report, called Fit for the Future: GP Pressures Report 2023, surveyed 2,600 general practice staff between December and January about the infrastructure within general practice, including IT systems.

Over half (55%) of respondents said that at least one of their booking systems, either online or phone, were not fit for purpose. The majority (82%) said this was because these systems did not have the capacity to meet demand, while 56% said they did not have enough staff to operate the systems.

Nearly two thirds (65%) of practice staff added that the ability of their IT systems to exchange information with secondary care is also not of an acceptable standard.

However, many added that practices had ‘insufficient headspace or management capacity’ to consider trialling other service providers or new ways of working.

The report said: ‘Outdated technology and ineffective booking systems are wasting doctors’ time and making it harder to give patients the care they need. It is also essential to make urgent progress on enabling IT systems to share information between different NHS settings.’

It recognised that good IT systems will ‘never be a silver bullet when demand outstrips supply’, but that investment could make a ‘big difference’ to patients’ experience.

The report added: ‘Investment in IT is essential, but this must sit alongside investment in expanding the clinical and administrative workforce and transformation support.’

Winter funding

The survey also found that more than half (57%) of practice staff did not access the Government’s winter funding because of a lack of flexibility, while 35% said they did not access this due to the ‘arduous form-filling involved’.

In response to these findings, the RCGP called for a ‘properly funded plan’ to enable general practice to respond to surges in patient demand, rather than relying on emergency funding pots.

The report said: ‘Providing an easily accessible pot of funding over winter may help, but this will not be enough to solve the challenges facing general practice. For example, the lack of clinical staff available to hire using the short-term additional funding, and the lack of physical space to host those additional staff, limits practices in utilising the funds effectively.

‘There needs to be a properly funded flexible plan to prepare general practice to deal with surges whenever they occur.’

These survey findings come after details about the 2023/24 GP contract, released by NHS England last week, said there would be no extra funding.

The new contract also stipulates that GP practices must procure cloud-based telephony once their current telephone contracts expire.