Impossible for all GPs to offer appointments via NHS app by December, warns GPC

Government plans for every patient in England to be able to book GP appointments through an NHS app by the end of the year will not be possible to deliver, a senior BMA GP has warned.

Dr Farah Jameel
Dr Farah Jameel

Health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt announced on Monday that an NHS app being rolled out from December this year would allow all patients to book GP appointments, order repeat prescriptions, manage long-term conditions and access advice from NHS 111.

He said the app would mark 'the death-knell of the 8am scramble for GP appointments that infuriates so many patients'.

However, just six months before the app is due to be rolled out nationally - and with pilots due to begin in September - GP leaders say they have yet to see how it works. Senior BMA GPs have not yet had a chance to test out the application’s functionality or test drive a beta version.

Lack of consultation

GPC executive committee member Dr Farah Jameel said the lack of consultation with the profession over development of the app was 'unacceptable'.

'I was quite amazed they had come so far along without consulting with us,' she told GPonline. 'I am not opposed to the app, but I think the process needs to be more collaborative. We don't know how they wish to implement the app - are they going to say all GP appointments need to made available through it?'

Dr Jameel warned that given variation in how GP practices organise their appointment booking systems and manage demand, it was not possible to say that all patients would be able to book appointments using the NHS app by the end of the year.

'One of the things we have highlighted is that each practice will go about their appointments system differently. If a practice is offering complete doctor triage, there will be no appointments available to book. Others might have appointments in three weeks.

GP access

'More and more GP surgeries have looked at demand and tried to make appointments available at different times, making sure there is accessibility for different groups - but this is not touching on the reason for the lack of appointments, which is a combination of rising workload, increasing patient complexity and reducing workforce - there are not enough GPs on the ground so of course there are not enough appointments.'

Dr Jameel pointed out that many patients already had online access to appointment booking, and warned that while tech-savvy patients may gain another option for interacting with their GP practice through the app, for others it might 'add a layer of confusion'.

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said on Monday: 'GPs understand and share the public’s frustration at not always being able to get an appointment, and this app has the potential to offer patients who are comfortable using this type of technology another option to contact their practice.

'In using this it is important to ensure patient confidentiality is protected and develop systems that enable patients to be directed to the right course of action or appointment for their condition. If developed and tested appropriately, it could also be helpful for those ordering repeat prescriptions or receiving test results.

'However, it cannot create appointments out of nowhere. One of the fundamental problems facing general practice is that there are not enough GPs to meet rising demand, meaning patients wait longer and doctors face unmanageable workloads. So, while innovation such as this app has potential, the government’s priority must be to address the workforce crisis.'

A DHSC spokesman said: 'NHS Digital and NHS England are actively engaging with all GP system providers, national bodies and representatives of GP practices to ensure the transition is smooth, and that all parties have had the opportunity to reflect their needs prior to launch.'

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