Health secretary gives practices 2015 deadline for patient online access

Practices have until 2015 to provide online access to patient records, appointment booking and repeat prescriptions, according to health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who insists it will not drive up workload.

Jeremy Hunt: ‘This is about reducing the workload of GPs.'
Jeremy Hunt: ‘This is about reducing the workload of GPs.'

Mr Hunt said that he has given practices a 2015 deadline for providing online access for patients because that is when there is going to be a general election and he wants to be accountable for ensuring that it happens.

He said online access would reduce the bureaucratic burden for GPs to allow them to focus on other things because the government doesn’t ‘have any more money to offer’ them.

Speaking at the launch of the RCGP’s practical guide for how practices can provide online access at a GP practice in south London today, he said: ‘There are three additional things that we need GPs to do, that we don’t have any more money to offer them to do, because the money is not there. The three things are to be open longer hours, more proactive management of the frail, the elderly and people with long-term conditions, so that you are case managing, so you are not just dealing with them when something goes wrong.

‘And more proactive early diagnosis of people in higher-risk groups so that we pick up cancer, diabetes and all those things early. So those are three very, very big asks.’

Professor Gerada discusses the guide with Mr Hunt

The RCGP’s guide, called Patient Online: The Road Map, advises that practices should only allow prospective, not retrospective access to online patient records. It doesn’t advocate patients being allowed to change their records and said that any patient-requested changes would have to be approved by the GP first. It also reminds GPs that patients will have to be able to understand their notes. It points out that although GPs may now have to write them in a lay-friendly form, they should not reduce the quality of them.

Mr Hunt said: ‘This is about reducing the workload of GPs. What I want to do is free up GPs’ time because there are some other very big things that we need GPs to do and they are working incredibly hard and [they are] pretty rushed off their feet at the moment.’

When asked if 2015 was a realistic deadline for practices to deliver, he said: ‘I have said 2015 because there happens to be a general election this year so I am very hopeful I will stay in my job until then and that means I can be accountable for championing that and making it happen.’

RCGP chairwoman Professor Clare Gerada said: ‘Patients gaining access to their own records presents us with great opportunities and major challenges, not only for GPs, but also for patients themselves and their carers.

‘From the outset, our focus has been on the practical steps needed for GP practices to deliver patient online access by 2015 and we believe that the roadmap is an appropriate, workable and realistic way forward for all those involved. This could not have been achieved without the hard work and commitment of the many organisations and individuals involved.’

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