Practices must sign their contracts for a move to digital telephony before 15 December 2023 to guarantee receiving funding help, NHS England has said.
NHS England pledged to provide financial support to practices moving from analogue to digital telephony under the Delivery plan for recovering access to primary care, launched in May.
The funding – worth an average of £60,000 for practices on older systems – covers any incumbent supplier costs and implementation costs such as the purchase of digital headsets.
However, a letter sent to integrated care boards (ICBs) published today, Dr Amanda Doyle, national director for primary care and community services at NHS England, warned that the funding would be unavailable beyond this financial year.
She said: ‘To guarantee funding, eligible practices will need to have signed a digital telephony contract by 15 December 2023. This allows enough time for implementation and any installation work needed to go live before the end of March 2024 and ensures that funding is spent this financial year.’
‘Funding is not available for digital telephony beyond this financial year,’ the letter added. ‘Practices moving to digital telephony beyond these dates will need to bear the costs themselves.’
Practices still using analogue solutions had been asked to sign up ‘in principle’ to a switchover to digital before July – which 100% of them did.
They are now being urged to engage with their ICB and the National Commercial and Procurement HUB ‘as a matter of urgency to ensure participation in the programme’ and secure funding (see also box).
Central funding has already been allocated to ICBs based on the number of analogue practices in their system. If any practice does not sign by 15 December 2023, those amounts will be adjusted accordingly, said the letter.
It explained: ‘The national team is working closely with regional and ICB leads to monitor and track the number of eligible practices transitioning to digital telephony, including when contracts have been signed.
‘Following the 15 December deadline, we will identify any practices that have not yet signed a contract and the activities will commence to make the appropriate adjustments to funding via the ICB Integrated Finance Return (IFR) monthly process.’
Dr Doyle said more than 80% of practices have now moved to digital telephony, which is ‘a significant increase from just over 50% a year ago’.
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, practices were reminded.