NHS self-referral for tests and appointments for hundreds of thousands of patients

Hundreds of thousands more people a year will have the option to refer themselves for key services such as help with incontinence, podiatry, or hearing tests without needing to see a GP, as part of the NHS primary care access recovery plan.

Around 180,000 more people per year will be able to self-refer for additional services such as incontinence support or community nursing without seeing their GP, so family doctors’ time can be freed up to focus on delivering care to people who need it most.

Across NHS services, around 200,000 people a month already self-refer themselves for treatment for podiatry, audiology, and physiotherapy but local services will now be able to expand the option of self-referral to other key services based on the needs of their population.

Building on the success of the primary care access recovery plan published in May last year, the NHS will write to local services today to set out the next steps for the year ahead to continue to modernise general practice, expand pharmacy services, and offer patients more choice in how they access care.

Under the renewed plan, every GP practice will also be required to allow new patients to register online this year instead of having to attend in-person and fill in a form.

Patients will have access to healthcare at the touch of a button, with 1.5 million more people a month able to order repeat prescriptions on the NHS App taking the total to 50 million a year.

Hundreds of thousands of people a year will be able to receive treatment at their high street pharmacist for seven common conditions without needing to see a GP first, as part of the rollout that began earlier this year.

GP teams are already delivering record numbers of appointments with the latest figures from February 2024 showing that more than 30 million appointments were delivered, up almost a quarter on the same period pre-pandemic.

More than nine in ten (92%) of GP practices in England now have cloud based systems thanks to the plan – this means phone lines can be expanded and won’t ever be engaged. The remaining practices are agreeing dates within the next month for upgrades to happen with tech suppliers and are expected to happen from next month.

Dr Amanda Doyle, national director for primary care, NHS England said: “General Practice and pharmacies in the heart of our communities are often the first point of call for people who are unwell, so it is only right the NHS does everything possible to make these services as convenient and modern as possible for patients.

“The NHS has made important progress over the last year from allowing patients the option to self-refer for key services, order repeat prescriptions, and book blood pressure checks at the touch of a button without the need to call their GP.

“And we want to make sure that this offer is available to even more people which is why we are expanding the offers in our primary access recovery plan including increasing the number of people who can self-refer for common services without a GP referral – not only is this good news for patients but it will also free up family doctors who are already delivering millions more appointments a month than before the pandemic.”

The NHS has expanded the primary care workforce with 36,000 staff employed to practices since 2019, way exceeding the original target.

In line with the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, the number of GPs in training will increase by 500 by 2025/26.

Primary Care Minister Andrea Leadsom said: “Self-referral will give patients greater choice, free up GP appointments and help make access to care faster, simpler and fairer for everyone.

“We’re determined to continue improving access to our fantastic GPs having already delivered 50 million more GP appointments per year compared to 2019. Our Pharmacy First scheme also enables patients to get treatment for seven common conditions without a prescription which, combined with expanded blood pressure checks and oral contraceptive services, will help free up around 10 million GP appointments.

“And we’ve invested £240 million on digital tools, telephony and training to ensure GP surgeries have what they need to deliver the best possible service to patients.”