New service makes it easier to register with a GP surgery

Patients and a selection of GP practices across England have been testing a new ‘Register with a GP surgery’ service which  aims to make registration simpler, easier, and more inclusive for both patients and practices, whilst reducing the administrative time required to complete the process.

Alongside the online service, an improved paper form option is also being developed for those patients who prefer to use this method of registration.

Using the new ‘Register with a GP surgery’ online service, patients will experience benefits including the ability to register without visiting the practice in person, as well as having a consistent question set to answer.

Participating GP practices have already expressed benefits in offering the new service, including a significant time reduction in administrative processing and an improvement in the quality of patient information received by the NHS, which leads to less duplication and mistakes being made in the future.

The challenges being addressed

Feedback received about the current registration process concluded that the current process can be challenging and onerous for both patients and practices. The current GP registration process includes a lot of paperwork for both patients and practices and manual data entry by GP admin teams. Evidence from Healthwatch UK identified parts of the process that acted as an artificial barrier to people getting registered with a GP; for example, some patients were asked to show proof of ID, which is not required as part of the registration process.

In order to make registration more accessible and inclusive for everyone, NHS England and NHS Digital have worked with patients and a number of charity organisations, including Doctors of the World and Groundswell to ensure different patient groups are shaping the design of the service. As a result, features are being incorporated that will make it easier for those without a fixed address to register with a GP.

Dr Matt Curtis, a GP at Holycroft Surgery in Keighley, West Yorkshire, whose practice is involved in the pilot, explained how the existing registration form causes some challenges for GP practices.

He said: “The current forms are prone to errors, misspellings and incorrect digits which often make it impossible to 100% accurately match new registrations to patients who have records from a previous practice. This may mean that the NHS ends up with two separate records for the same patient, with only partial information being available on the new record – or a patient linked to the wrong record altogether. This can cause complications later down the line when a patient is being reviewed by a clinician so it is hugely important that this part of the process is done correctly, as a patient being incorrectly matched to someone else could have devastating consequences.”

Although the new service is still offering a paper form for patients who wish to register this way, the improved form has been designed considering these frequently made errors and typos, in an attempt to avoid them in the future.

Benefits of the new system

The updated paper form will align with the online service, be easier to understand and include clearer explanations to better support people to complete it correctly.

In the future, NHS England and NHS Digital are aiming to connect the online registration service to GP clinical systems and other NHS digital services, such as the NHS App. This will save further time for GP practice staff because they will no longer need to copy and paste the patients’ details into their GP IT systems; the information will be transferred over automatically.

Designing an inclusive service

The new ‘Register with a GP Surgery’ service also considers different patient journeys, such as those new to the NHS and people who have previously served in the UK armed forces, to ensure it is truly accessible to all. Understanding these different registration types allows GP practices to find out a bit more about a patient’s background, which is helpful when considering that patient’s treatment options and support.

Digital registration also allows people to register someone else who may need help, without the need to visit the GP practice in person to collect a paper form. This will make it easier for parents wanting to register their children, and carers wishing to register dependents and loved ones, who may not be able to register themselves. It also means that charities working with vulnerable people, such as the homeless, can support people to register.

Kevin Doran, Assistant Head of General Practice at Sunderland GP Alliance, is also involved in testing the new service. He says that the main benefit of this new registration system is improving access for patients: “We have made the ‘Register with a GP Surgery’ online service available across all four of our GP surgeries. Each practice has an iPad that our admin staff use to help patients to go online and register there and then in the practice – like a supported self-service. This saves the patient having to sit in the waiting room and complete the forms or having to go home to complete them and bring them back. Each practice also has a dedicated member of staff, called a ‘digital champion’, who promotes the new online service to patients and staff and is there to answer any questions about the service.”

Currently, the completed online forms are sent to a dedicated email address for the general practice admin team to review and manually add into their system. Future plans for the service will still enable practices to review and approve patient registration forms but the new registration model will remove the physical processing part which currently takes practices up to 30 minutes per form. Kevin added: “While we still have to complete data input for now, the information we’re receiving from patients is a much better quality than from the previous form”. The improved service is already saving the practice considerable time and improving the accuracy of their patient data.

Looking to the future

The ‘Register with a GP surgery’ online service is already showing demonstrable benefits to both practices and patients and the service is constantly being enhanced and fine-tuned to make it even more responsive. As more GP practices begin to offer the service, the NHS hopes to see these benefits being realised across England.

Dr Ursula Montgomery, Interim Director of Primary Care, at NHS England said “Being registered with a GP allows patients through the front door of the NHS to get the care they need. The ‘Register with a GP Surgery’ service has redesigned the whole process with the user at its centre, so it is inclusive and tackles known, long-standing issues that can contribute to health inequalities. This will make a tangible difference to patients and general practice.”