A new framework agreement that will enable practices and PCNs to buy advanced digital GP telephone systems from a list of already accredited suppliers has been delayed and will now be launched next year.
The Digital Care Services Cloud Telephony framework will replace the existing agreement – called the Better Purchasing Framework. It had been expected to be implemented earlier this year but NHS England has confirmed it will now be out in 2024.
The new agreement will support surgeries, PCNs and Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) in buying advanced digital GP telephony solutions that include the following features: auto-attendant and interactive voice response, call reporting, call recording, office telephony and video consultation.
A spokesperson for NHS England told Management in Practice the framework will also ‘set the strategic technical and commercial direction for future services’ and set the standard for telephony services and ‘unified communications’ in general practice and primary care’.
The 11 suppliers currently approved on the existing Better Purchasing framework (BPf) will be pre-committed to the terms of the new Digital Care Services Cloud Telephony framework (see also box below). They will also be required to achieve catalogue compliance by January 2024 as a condition of entry.
The BPf, itself only published in January this year, is designed to provide practices and other buying organisations with added confidence when making purchasing decisions on cloud-based telephone systems.
It means practices can choose from a list of suppliers ‘who have been through early assurance’ and whose products have the required functionality, so they don’t have to go through the complicated process of finding vendors themselves. They also benefit from specialist support and advice from the NHS England’s National Commercial and Procurement Hub to help make the buying process simpler.
More specific detail on timings around the launch of the Digital Care Services Cloud Telephony framework will be communicated in the coming months, the NHS England spokesperson said.
Practices with any urgent requirements – such as their contract ending or those still on analogue systems) – should use the current BPf, until the new framework is out, NHS England has said.
Surgeries on analogue systems have been offered financial support to make the switch to a digital solution.
Last week, they were warned by NHS England they would have to sign their contracts for a move to digital telephony before 15 December 2023 to guarantee receiving funding help.
All practices will have to move to digital telephony by 2025 when the public switched telephone network (PSTN) will be switched off across the UK.