Digital requirements guidance

The NHS Long Term Plan, published in January 2019, commits to every patient having the right to be offered digital-first primary care by 2023/24.

The five-year framework for GP contract reform published to implement The NHS Long Term Plan, introduced a bold set of commitments related to digital services in general practice, agreed by NHS England and NHS Improvement and the British Medical Association (BMA).

These commitments are being introduced gradually every year through the GP contract since 2019-2020, and by now all GP practices should, among other new requirements:

  • have an online presence, such as a website, and an GP profile page, both of which they keep up to date
  • no longer use fax machines for NHS communications
  • offer all patients online access to their GP medical record
  • offer and promote to their patients, and those acting on their behalf, access to an online consultation tool, which enables patients to contact the practice online
  • offer and promote video consultations to their patients as an option for receiving care where appropriate.

More recently, many of these patient-facing digital requirements are presented as part of a ‘core digital offer’ – see annex C of the GP contract letter published on 21 January 2021.

You can find on this page published guidance related to some of these requirements for practices.

Guidance on directly bookable appointments introduced in October 2022

This guidance sets out requirements for online appointment booking following changes to General Medical Services (GMS), Personal Medical Services (PMS) and Alternative Provider Medical Services (APMS) contractual arrangements that came into effect in England from October 2022 and were originally described in the 2022/23 GP contract letter.

The previous contractual requirement stated that “all practices will ensure at least 25% of appointments are available for online booking”. This requirement has been replaced by a requirement that practices instead make all of their “directly bookable” appointments available online, as well as by phone or in-person.

View and download the guidance for directly bookable appointments.

Guidance on digital requirements introduced in October 2021, including online consultation tools

All GP practices are required from October 2021 to ‘offer and promote’ to their patients (and those acting on their behalf) the following:

  • an online consultation tool
  • a video consultation tool
  • a secure electronic communication method
  • an online facility to provide and update personal or contact information.

These requirements are all subject to existing safeguards for vulnerable groups and third-party confidentiality. They are to be in place alongside, rather than as a replacement for, other access and communication methods, for example, telephone and face to face contact.

In addition, a small change to the existing requirements on practices having an informative and up-to-date online presence is introduced: for practices to signpost patients to their online consultations tool and to the NHS Symptom Checker from their website or other online presence.

Please see the guidance  that explains in more detail what the new digital and online services requirements are.

New guidance supporting practices to remove use of facsimile (fax) machines

The GP contract (NHS Long Term Plan and Investment and Evolution: a five-year framework for GP contract reform) set out that from April 2020, all practices will no longer use facsimile (fax) machines for either NHS or patient communications.

This practice guide contains detailed guidance and process steps to help practices achieve this. It also includes hints, tips and case study experiences to support general practices.

Download your copy of the Practice guidance: removing use of facsimile (fax) machines.

For further information please contact

Patient access to records online: Prospective record access

The NHS Long Term Plan and Investment and Evolution: a five-year framework for GP contract reform commits the NHS to give new registrants with full online access to prospective data, subject to existing safeguards for vulnerable groups and third party and system functionality.

NHS England and BMA General Practitioners Committee (GPC) in England have developed additional guidance and resources to support GP practices in meeting this commitment. These are:

For further information please contact