Patients will arrange 10 million GP appointments and order 15 million repeat prescriptions online this year

Patients in England are on course to use online services offered by their local GPs to arrange more than 10 million appointments and order more than 15 million prescriptions in this financial year, NHS England’s digital lead revealed today (2 December 2015).

Based on HSCIC activity figures six months into the year, it is also expected that patients will use the new systems to view test results and letters about their care more than half a million times each.

In a speech to the Sustainable healthcare – turning concepts into reality for individuals and the NHS conference in London, Beverley Bryant, NHS England’s Director of Digital Technology, welcomed the figures but called on local practices and decision makers to use new guidance from the Patient Online programme to offer more services to more patients as soon as possible.

Speaking at the conference, Beverley Bryant said: “Building on successes last year we need to expand the use of online service in general practices.

“We need to go further and faster – more patients, accessing more services and being able to view more information about their health and care.

“This updated guidance and resource should give practices and their local partners all the information they need to be able to capitalise on the opportunities that technology presents to improve services for patients and increase the efficiency of their practices.”

In the first six months of the 2015/16 financial year, patients used online services offered by their GP practice to order medication 7,681,879 times, and book or rearrange appointments 5,094,258 times. More than 97% of patients are now able to benefit from these services.

Increasing numbers of patients are also being enabled to access information on their medical records online. So far this year patients have viewed their test results 268,144 times, and viewed letters about their care 257,825 times. All practices should be offering access to detailed coded information by the end of March 2016. 

Dr Masood Nazir, a GP in Birmingham and the Clinical Lead for the Patient Online programme, said: “The evidence on the benefits that this can bring for both patients and practices continues to increase.

“As the workload of GP practices grows, online services not only reduce the administrative burden for practices who are embracing them but the sharing of information is also shown to increase patient satisfaction, whilst delivering real benefits and convenience to patients.”

NHS England’s Patient Online programme has updated the interactive Support and Resources Guide to help GP practices implement their contractual requirements for 2015/16, including online booking of appointments, ordering repeat prescriptions and by the 31st of March 2016, access to detailed coded information held in patients’ records.

The resource includes updated guidance and practical tools for practices, links to RCGP guides, promotional materials for patients, FAQs and case studies as well as regional and local support arrangements. It also offers clarification of pertinent issues such as proxy access and coercion.

NHS England has worked closely with practice managers, practice staff and GPs from across the country to ensure the guide addresses their concerns, shares learning and supports them to offer high-quality online services to their patients. Last year’s guide was positively received by GP practices, and accessed more than 10,500 times.

Lynne Jones, practice manager at the Cropredy Surgery in Banbury, which is a case study in the new Patient Online guidance, said: “We have been offering these services to patients for years and increasing numbers are using them. Even those who don’t use them still benefit from fewer people calling the surgery and staff having more time to help.

“This is not the future anymore. It is with us now and we have the opportunity to improve the way we work for the benefit of our patients and our practice teams. Why wouldn’t you do it?”