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Practices to receive funding to upgrade inadequate digital phones

by Eliza Parr
29 November 2023

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NHS England will fund some GP practices to upgrade their digital telephony system if their current supplier is not up to scratch.

The exact value of funding has not yet been determined and will be based on a prioritisation exercise.

In a letter sent to ICBs this week, national director for primary care Dr Amanda Doyle said support will be offered to practices on a ‘time-limited basis’ and the switch to a new supplier must be completed by the end of this financial year. 

Local commissioners will now put together a list of practices who do not meet the national enhanced reporting standard for digital telephony, and will ask them to sign up for support ‘in principle’ by 18 December. 

When signing up, practices must agree to work with NHS England’s procurement team, to sign a contract with a new supplier by early February, and to go live by 25 March at the latest. 

Dr Doyle said that ‘in the event of oversubscription ICBs and regions will agree the final list’ to be sent to NHSE.

Depending on demand from practices, NHS England has said it may need to ‘prioritise against available funding’ – this prioritisation will be based on whether GP practices can currently meet functional requirements such as call-back, call queuing, and enhanced reporting capability (see box). 

Practices will also be prioritised based on value for money factors including the incumbent supplier costs, their ‘commitment and willingness’, and their engagement with the General Practice Improvement Programme (GPIP)

GPIP, which was announced as part of NHSE’s recovery plan for primary care, aims to help practices have ‘more control over their workload, maximise the use of all staff roles’ and meet patient demands. 

The final list of practices who will receive funding for upgraded digital telephony will be distributed to ICBs by 22 December. 

This year’s contract imposition stipulated that GP practices must procure cloud-based telephony once their current contracts expire, and in October the Government confirmed that every practice in England is working towards that goal.

And the recovery plan in May announced £240m of funding for practices to ‘embrace latest technology’ with a focus on replacing old analogue phone systems.

Dr Doyle’s letter said GP practices are ‘making good progress’ towards this goal.

On the newly announced funding for upgrading current telephony systems, she said: ‘Given the limited time available to take advantage of this opportunity, and the significant on-going task of ensuring all analogue practices sign contracts and go live within this financial year, we aim to streamline this process as much as possible and continue to support nationally.’

Digital telephony national standards

Digital telephony solutions must meet all the following standards and requirements taken from the national specification:

  • auto attendant to enable routing of calls
  • call-back and call queuing functionality 
  • support for remote working and business continuity 
  • enhanced reporting capability to support capacity/demand service planning:
    • call volumes – total inbound
    • call times to answer – waiting in queue 
    • calls abandoned – after selecting option before speaking to team
    • wait time before call abandoned 
    • call backs requested – from in queue position 
    • call backs made 
    • average call length times 
    • no answer volumes – not picked up after selection of option e.g. no answer from extension, transferred to voicemail, rejected.

Source: NHS England

A version of this story was first published on our sister title Pulse.