GPs to foot the bill for texts to patients

Practices could be forced to spend thousands of pounds on replacement SMS texting services under DH plans to phase out central funding for services used by NHS bodies.

Dr Cundy: decision to cut NHSmail is 'technologically backwards' (Photo: Pete Hill)
Dr Cundy: decision to cut NHSmail is 'technologically backwards' (Photo: Pete Hill)

National funding for the popular NHSmail email-to-SMS service, which allows GPs to generate SMS text messages from emails to send to patients or staff, will not be renewed at the end of 2014/15, the DH has confirmed.

From April 2015, any organisation wanting to continue using the service will have to procure and fund its own contract.

The current service is used by at least one in seven GP practices, often to remind patients about appointment times and provide them with test results. It has been shown to improve appointment uptake and streamline GP workload.

Dr Paul Cundy, chairman of the joint GPC and RCGP IT committee, criticised the DH decision to cut into funding as 'technologically backward'.

'One potential problem is that practices will face having to pay for this service themselves - something that we need to avoid,' he said.

The full business case for the NHSmail transition, released by NHS England and the DH, said the service would have to be 'funded locally from April 2015' and healthcare organisations must then 'procure their own service' if they wish to continue using it.

The current spend on the GP SMS service totals £3m a year, and individual practices would be forced to pay 'thousands of pounds every year' to secure local providers, according to Dr Cundy. DH plans to move to an entirely paperless NHS could drive costs even higher, he warned.

A spokesman from the DH said the decision represented a 'general move away from nationally procured systems' and towards an approach where local organisations have the 'flexibility to choose systems that best suit local clinical and patient needs'.

'Everyone agrees that the email-to-SMS service is useful; however, it's right that organisations are responsible for its use and funding at a more local level,' he added.

Dr Cundy said he thought the move was partly in response to inappropriate use of the system from some parties. Some hospital trusts are understood to have used it to text daily canteen menus to staff.

Dr Cundy said: 'GPs have not been abusing it and we're hoping that out of this, a GP-specific SMS service will arise and different arrangements will have to be made for trusts.'

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