Fewer patients have visited GP practices for repeat prescriptions through wider use of the NHS app, according to NHS Digital.
More than 26 million people have signed up to the app, and in the past four months over 5.9 million repeat prescriptions were ordered, and 463,000 GP appointments were booked through the app, saving time for patients and clinicians, the organisation said.
Susie Day, NHS digital head of delivery for the NHS app, said: ‘By using the NHS app to manage appointments and order repeat prescriptions online thousands of patient journeys to GP practices are being saved every month.’
Analysis carried out by NHS Digital found that around 200,000 appointments and repeat prescriptions arranged through the NHS app between April and December last year would previously have been made by people driving to their local surgery. The research also estimated that around 4,100 fewer bus and taxi journeys and around 5,500 fewer train and motorbike journeys were being made every month, with patients using the app instead.
In total, NHS Digital suggested that more than 206,000 car, bus and taxi trips to GP practices were estimated to have been saved between April and December 2021, with patient journeys to GP practices accounting for around 17% of the carbon footprint of the NHS. The reduced number of journeys was estimated to have led to carbon dioxide (C02) reduction of 78 tonnes.
This could support practices amid increasing appointment numbers recorded by the NHS, which the BMA described as a ‘worrying trend’ given the declining numbers of full-time-equivalent fully qualified GPs. The average number of patients that each GP is responsible for estimated to have increased by 16% – or 300 – since 2015.
Ms Day added: ‘The NHS app is providing people with a convenient and secure way to access healthcare and is having a wider positive environmental impact. Sustainability is a key priority for NHS Digital and the organisation is working to reduce its carbon footprint. Last year, use of the app helped save more than 200,000 car journeys, resulting in a significant reduction of carbon emissions.’
A total of 55 apps and e-health services are now available through NHS login, the service that supports the NHS App, including e-referral services, Covid-19 support and advice, maternity and child health services, online pharmacies, and services to monitor and improve health and wellbeing.
The launch of patient access to GP records via the NHS app, however, has been delayed, with NHS England acknowledging concerns around patient ‘safeguarding’.
NHS Digital had previously announced in October that patients whose practices use TPP would be first to have access to new entries in their GP notes through the NHS app from December 2021, with EMIS practices to follow this year.
But the launch date was delayed for both systems after the BMA wrote to NHSX expressing its concerns about the timing of the rollout.
At the time, NHS England said it ‘appreciated’ that further time was ‘needed to prepare systems and staff for the changes and to provide training on ensuring sensitive information is safely hidden from patient view as it’s entered on systems’.
Last month, the RCGP also urged the health secretary to delay the rollout by at least eight weeks to ensure guidance could be published for practices before it begins.
Under the plans, patients will not be able to make changes to their GP record, although a Government white paper in February said that plans were ‘underway’ for patients to be able to access and contribute to their shared care record.
A new platform aimed at preventing delays to elective surgery, which launched on NHS.uk in February, is also expected to be incorporated into the NHS app in the longer term, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.