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NHS’s patient registration online service won’t be fully integrated with GP systems until next year

by Beth Gault
27 March 2023

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A recently launched service allowing patients to register with a GP surgery remotely rather than using a paper form won’t be fully integrated with practice clinical systems until 2024, NHS England has said.

This delay will result in increased workload for practices, managers have warned, undermining a key aim of the scheme which was to reduce the administrative burden on general practice.

The feature was initially trialled in 50 practices last year. Patients are signposted to an online form where they can register with their GP, rather than using a paper form.

In a recent webinar, held by NHS England, it was revealed that over 650 practices are now using the service, with 150,000 successful registration submissions already processed.

However, practice managers questioned the effectiveness of the service, due to it not being integrated with GP IT systems.

It was explained that currently, although a patient is able to fill in the registration form online, practices receive this data via a PDF in an email. They then have to manually copy and paste that data into their systems to complete the registration process. 

One practice manager attending the webinar said that having the data sent in an email ‘will just increase the workload for our staff’, as it’ just another email to deal with.

‘I don’t see this working until it’s fully integrated,’ they said.  However, what would also help is building in a feature where the practice could decline a patient where appropriate (for example if they were banned), they added.

Another practice manager said: ‘How will this reduce admin work for staff? We will still need to input all the information manually into the system just like we do for paper registrations.’

And another participant said this scheme was ‘no different’ to other online registration services offered by other providers, as they also generate a PDF for the practice. Although, they admitted, having the service integrated with the clinical system would make it ‘much better’.

The onboarding lead from NHS England, Will Leachman, said that they are ‘working hard to get that end-to-end integration’.

Product manager for the service at NHS England, Stewart Fishman, told participants he ‘understood’ the reservations held by some practice managers.

However, he explained: ‘This service does offer a lot more than any other service.’ For example, it provides a higher level of data and identity checking, as well as helps to reduce the number of applications that are returned because they require more information.

It is also free to practices and will be integrated with the NHS App at the end of this month (March).

The service has been proven to have about a 50% reduction in the number of applications ‘that go to exception with Primary Care Support England (PCSE),’ said Mr Fishman.

‘That’s where this service is providing a real benefit now, even without the automation service,’ he added.

When there is a problem, there can be back and forth communication trying to get hold of patients for more information and then having to go back and forth to PCSE, he further explained.

NHS England said there is a short term ‘solution’ to the lack of integration, as the system is compatible with robotics processing automation (RPA), which can mimic the copy and paste function and reduces the time spent on registering the patient.

NHS England are currently piloting the service with ‘a few GPs and a few RPA vendors’, according to the webinar, in order to support the automation of registrations.

It comes after almost half of GP practice staff said that their IT suppliers and support services were not fit for purpose , which wastes time and makes it harder to provide good patient care.