Patients at 1,000 practices can now book GP appointments via NHS app

One in seven patients in England are now able to use the NHS app to access GP services, NHS England has said - although some major providers remain unable to link to the new tool.

NHS app rolled out to 1,000 practices (Photo: Towfiqu Photography/Getty Images)
NHS app rolled out to 1,000 practices (Photo: Towfiqu Photography/Getty Images)

15% of people in England can ‘book medical appointments, view their healthcare record and order repeat prescriptions’ via the NHS app, NHS England has said - adding that the service is on track to be ‘fully functional in 100% of GP practices by July 2019’.

However, not all providers are currently able to connect their IT systems to the NHS app. Labour health spokesperson in the Lords Baroness Thornton told peers last month that a leaked NHS Digital briefing had revealed that 32 online consultation suppliers were unable to connect.

Babylon GP at Hand - which now serves more than 40,000 patients - was among the organisations unable to connect to the NHS app, and confirmed to GPonline this week that the problem is yet to be resolved.

Digital-first primary care

A spokesperson for Babylon said: ‘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.’

GPC executive team lead for IT Dr Farah Jameel said: 'Given that they use different software, it is not surprising to hear that there may have been difficulty connecting the NHS app with third-party apps so far. That said, we are pleased with the progress made so far on the NHS app – it has been carefully tested and responsibly deployed.'

In a blogpost detailing how the long-term plan will ‘set a clear direction to mainstream digitally enabled care across the NHS’, NHS England’s interim chief digital officer Tara Donnelly wrote: ‘The team at NHS Digital are currently exploring the different options available to integrate the NHS app with other digital tools and work out which is the best approach.

‘This includes investigating the technical requirements needed to enable the meaningful integration of online consultations within the NHS app. Our clear focus of integration, is to ensure the delivery of a consistent and good patient experience.

NHS app

Currently, the vast majority of patients can only use the app’s 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

A statement published by NHS England on Twitter read: ‘1,000 GP practices are now live with the NHS app, meaning 15% of the country can manage appointments, order repeat prescriptions and more, using their mobile phone! Enabling digital-first primary care is a key feature of the #NHSLongTermPlan.’

All functions of the app should be fully available across England by 1 July 2019, after all GP practices are connected, NHS England has said - with ‘most practices’ coming online between April and June.

Dr Jameel added: 'We would like to see additional functionality being developed eventually, like ability to send push notifications with reminders and so on.'

'Digitised NHS'

It is hoped that the app, which went live in January, will help bring an end to the 8am ‘scramble’ for appointments across the country.

Speaking at the time, NHS England deputy chief executive Matthew Swindells said the app would 'put the NHS into the pocket of everyone in England'.

'We see the app as the digital front door into the NHS, for those who want to use it, and once rolled out we will continue to develop and enhance its offer to patients, making it the must have health app for everyone in England.'

Health secretary Matt Hancock said the app's rollout marked ‘a shift towards a truly digitised NHS’, while RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard voiced hopes that the app ‘will make navigating primary care services easier for patients'.

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