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NHSE scraps rule requiring practices to make 25% of appointments bookable online

by Jess Hacker
2 March 2022

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NHS England has said it will scrap the contractual requirement that practices must list at least 25% of appointments for online booking, under a suite of new changes to the GP contract.

It described the requirement – which is currently drawn from a practice’s total number of appointments – as ‘too crude’, in light of new means of accessing GPs developed during the pandemic.

This will instead be replaced with ‘a more targeted requirement’ for all appointments that do not require triaging to be available to book online, in person or via the telephone.

Guidance will be issued on what type of appointments practices are expected to make available for online booking, NHSE said, but did not give a date.

The plans were confirmed yesterday (1 March) as part of the GP contract updates for 2022/23, which include changes to the core GP Contract and the Network Contract DES.

Major changes to the GP contract

  • PCN practices will be required to open 9-5 on Saturdays under the extended access element of the Network DES
  • GP practices will be required to respond to Access to Health Records Act (AHRA) requests for deceased patients
  • The £20m funding in the Global Sum to reflect workload for practices from Subject Access Requests will continue into 2022/23
  • Another £280m available for PCNs to recruit additional staff under the additional roles reimbursement scheme (ARRS)
  • The number of mental health practitioner roles will double.

Source: NHS England

These plans also indicated that GPs in primary care networks (PCNs) will be required to open from 9am to 5pm on Saturdays from October, with plans on how PCNs will achieve this expected to be filed by the end of August.

It remains unclear how the service will be funded. The contract changes will come into effect from 1 April.

BMA ‘bitterly disappointed’ with contract changes

Meanwhile, the BMA has said it is ‘bitterly disappointed’ with the changes made to the GP contract, claiming it will ‘fail’ to support practices.

The association, which began their contract negotiations with NHSE in January, said the conversations reached a ‘stalemate’ by mid-February, stating it had become ‘clear’ that NHSE ‘would not be offering an update that would impact meaningfully on patient care’.

According to the BMA, it had laid out a number of solutions to pressures facing practices, including flexibility for PCNs to hire staff based on the needs of their patients and not be bound by prescriptive job roles.

Dr Farah Jameel, BMA England GP committee chair, said: ‘We are bitterly disappointed that NHS England has chosen to ignore the appeals from the profession and the needs of patients in today’s letter.’

She argued that general practice ‘needs an emergency rescue package’, adding that without it, patient care will suffer.

‘GPs and practices will see today’s changes as devaluing their goodwill and demolishing their spirit. The letter does nothing to capture the scale of changes needed nor safeguards patients, and further highlights the need for a new contract that delivers high quality safe care in the new world we live in,’ she said.

Management in Practice’s sister title, Pulse, was told today that the GPC is considering its ‘next steps’ as a negotiator has called for a vote of ‘no confidence’ in NHSE leadership.