NHS app to allow online GP booking in five pilot areas from October

Patients in five pilot sites will be able to book GP appointments, order repeat prescriptions and check medical records through an NHS app from next month, the health and social care secretary said on Thursday.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock

In a speech at the NHS Expo event in Manchester, Matt Hancock announced that pilots of the NHS app will begin in Liverpool, Hastings, Bristol, Staffordshire and South Worcestershire in October, ahead of a full national rollout planned for December.

Mr Hancock's predecessor Jeremy Hunt unveiled plans for the NHS app last year - and said in July 2018 he wanted the tool to mark 'the death-knell of the 8am scramble for GP appointments that infuriates so many patients'.

Mr Hancock said: 'I want the best for the NHS, and will do all I can to make that happen. We are proposing to increase the NHS budget by £20bn a year, to guarantee the NHS for the long term. But money alone is not enough. We need to make the most of that money.

GP IT systems

'Yet our hospitals operate dozens of systems each, that don’t talk to each other. GPs, social care, pharmacies and community care are on different systems. Systems crashing is a regular occurrence. The social care system is not at all integrated, when its integration is vital.

'Now is the moment to put the failures of the past behind us, and set our sights on the NHS being the most cutting-edge system in the world for the use of technology to improve our health.'

A report by pharmaceutical company Roche, unveiled alongside the speech, found that 85% of adults welcome the new NHS App, 89% are comfortable sharing their data with the NHS, and that 90% would be comfortable with the NHS 'analysing their health data for better diagnosis and personalised treatment'.

The DHSC plans to invest more than £200m to 'transform a group of NHS trusts into internationally-recognised centres for technological and digital innovation'.

Tech advisory board

A health-tech advisory board to be chaired by Dr Ben Goldacre and reporting directly back to the health and social care secretary will come up with ideas for using technology to improve patient outcomes and experiences and to help NHS staff, as well as highlighting priorities and sharing best practice.

Mr Hancock said that since becoming health and social care secretary he had heard 'over and over' that NHS staff were crying out for better technology.

He told the conference: 'We need technology that makes life easier for hard working and often over-stretched staff. We need technology that can run basic tasks and processes more efficiently. This will save the NHS money and free up staff time - money and time that can be better used to provide great care.'

The NHS app is expected to support patients to book GP appointments, order repeat prescriptions, view their medical record, access 111 online for urgent medical queries, and set preferences for data sharing, organ donation and end of life care.

Responding to speech, Londonwide LMCs chief executive Dr Michelle Drage said: 'GPs have always been at the forefront of bringing new technology into the NHS. But experience shows there is a need to test and prove the concept and reliability of emergent technology, including AI, before scaling up any offer.

'Many GP practices are working with slow internet connections, saddled with NHS software which only runs on outdated operating systems and trying to get to grips with new data protection responsibilities. These less glamourous problems need fixing in order to lay the groundwork for greater technological advances.'

GP leaders said earlier this year that rolling out the NHS app across all GP practices in England by the end of 2018 was not possible.

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