Just over half of GP practices connected to NHS app as rollout deadline nears

Just over half of GP practices in England are now connected to the NHS app - with less than six weeks to go until the deadline for completing its rollout across the country.

NHS long-term plan promised to extend app to all patients (Photo: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
NHS long-term plan promised to extend app to all patients (Photo: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)

Health minister Jackie Doyle-Price told MPs that the NHS app is ‘now connected in over 52% of GP practices’. This suggests that roughly 3,600 of England’s 6,993 practices have linked up with the app since its launch in January.

Meanwhile, the remaining practices now have less than six weeks to connect to the app before the 1 July deadline set by NHS England for rolling it out nationwide - a target branded 'ambitious' by the BMA.

The app - described by NHS England deputy chief executive Matthew Swindells as the ‘digital front door into the NHS’ - offers patients ‘a single safe and secure means to interact with their GP, including access to their GP record, make GP appointments, order repeat prescriptions [and] access 111 online for urgent medical questions,’ Ms Price said.

GPC executive team lead for IT Dr Farah Jameel said: 'The timeline to have the app in all practices by 1 July is certainly ambitious. However, should it slip past that date, what is important that it is rolled out responsibly, and that it is safe for practices and patients.

'This is an app with great potential, offering convenience to patients, while hopefully cutting workload for practices. The current features, including prescription requests and appointment booking, are all a step in the right direction as we seek to improve the digital offering from general practice. We hope that it will expand to include additional functionality in the future so that it can become a reliable, safe and secure digital front door to the NHS for every patient.'

Connectivity

However, the app has experienced problems in its early days -  with one non-executive NHS board member bemoaning the ‘complex’ patient verification system that took ‘around 30 minutes’ to complete.

In a blog published earlier this week, Sean Devlin - a tech lead on the NHS app - said that early feedback had highlighted ‘multi-factor identifications’ when logging in as a ‘real barrier’ for users.

‘It was apparent that an alternative login method was required to simplify everyday access to the app,’ he wrote, before outlining how his team had ‘faced up to IOS and Android challenges’ to achieve ‘passwordless login’ across the NHS app.

GPonline also reported in March that some 32 online consultation providers - including Babylon GP at Hand, which now serves more than 50,000 patients - had been unable to connect their IT systems to the NHS app.

NHS app

A spokesperson for Babylon said at the time: ‘Babylon is ready, willing and able to work with the NHS app team to ensure high quality digital services are available across the NHS, as envisaged by the NHS long-term plan. This app needs to be able to work with large providers like ourselves, or smaller ones who are starting up, so that patients and GP practices have access to the digital-first services that work best for them.’

Currently, patients registered at practices which are not yet fully connected to the NHS app will only be able to use its symptom checker. However, once a GP practice is fully connected with the NHS app, registered patients can use the service to:

  • Book and manage appointments at their GP practice
  • Order their repeat prescriptions
  • Securely view their GP medical record
  • Register as an organ donor
  • Choose whether the NHS uses their data for research and planning

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