Virtual GP service covering 300,000 patients rated outstanding by CQC

A 'virtual' GP service set up by a GP federation that serves more than 300,000 patients across 56 practices in Birmingham has been rated outstanding by the CQC.

A report on the virtual service based at West Heath Medical Centre, which operates a telephone and video consultation service available seven days a week to patients from practices that are part of Birmingham's SDS MyHealthcare federation, rated it outstanding overall. The service is provided by South Doc Services, a GP co-op, and was part of a pilot project initially funded by the Prime Minister's Challenge Fund.

Inspectors found that the service reduced workload for GP practices across the federation, improved access to appointments and generated significant savings on medicines waste.

The virtual service does not offer face-to-face consultations or home visits, and delivers non-complex appointments only via voice or video calls.

GP staff

At the time of the CQC inspection in April this year, nine GPs, an advanced nurse practitioner, seven pharmacists, two managers and a number of administrative staff were employed across the virtual consultation service and a telephone repeat prescription service that runs in parallel.

The service has access to patients' GP records, meaning their own practices were updated 'in real time' with information from any consultations carried out by the virtual service.

CQC inspectors found that the prescription ordering service operated by SDS My Healthcare, which enabled patients to discuss repeat prescription requirements generated 'significant cost savings on prescribing', while costs were continuing to rise for patients not using the service. The telephone service halved the time staff at practices covered by it spent on repeat prescriptions.

Virtual service

The virtual service also presented data to inspectors that showed scores of patients may have been kept out of hospital. Of 199 patients referred to the virtual GP service by NHS 111 - who were likely to have been referred to hospital otherwise - just 12 ended up in hospital.

Chief executive of the 56-practice Birmingham GP federation SDS MyHealthcare, Nirmal Vora, said the organisation was 'delighted' with the outstanding rating. He said: 'We’re keen to bring the NHS’s online offering into the modern era. Patients already enjoy outstanding digital experiences in the retail and entertainment sectors, for example, and we’re determined to add public healthcare to that list.'

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