Digital First Primary Care

The Digital First programme continues to support GP practices and primary care networks (PCNs) to move towards providing Digital First services by co-ordinating and designing a digital ‘front door’ to NHS services which integrates different clinical organisations and their IT solutions to support the adoption of new technologies by clinicians and patients.

Digital First is a technology enabled change programme, initiated as a requirement from the Long Term Plan (LTP) in January 2019, stipulating that “By 2023/24 every patient in England will be able to access a digital first primary care offer”. Since the inception of the programme, significant progress has been made to define the concept and delivery methodology for digital first. From the outset, this programme has been transformation focused and has utilised data insights and qualitative feedback from the system to make informed decisions around future patient pathways and digital deployments aligned with the NHS GP Contract, Long Term Plan, PCN Network Contract Directed Enhanced Service and Planning Guidance.

Caring for patients digitally has become a reality due to COVID-19 and the addition of online triage systems and closer integration of clinical systems across the NHS will significantly improve access to primary care services by enabling people to quickly get the most appropriate advice, information, support or care for their needs from the right service or professional. Patients will increasingly receive care within their own home or in the community, rather than hospital, as better tools and innovations such as home monitoring devices and video consultation are able to communicate with practice systems. This will give the treating professional the tools they need to deliver targeted, precise and more personalised interventions.

Digital First Primary Care Support and Resource Guide

A range of guidance material has been updated to continue to support the primary care workforce with this transition. In order to support practice staff in being able to easily access this information the South East Region Digital First programme has updated the South East Support and Resource Guide to support practices in optimising the use of digital technology by continuing to provide one platform to find and access key national resources across NHS programmes.

Version 2 of the guide updates includes a new resource guide produced with a local area GP to assist practices dealing with Online Consultation demand, tips on delivering online services to support practices to increase utilisation of repeat prescription, access to records and online appointment booking, the newly improved NHS Service Finder and an updated digital practice readiness checklist to support practice staff in optimising the use of digital tools and new ways of working.

Download the Online Consultation Demand Guide and Digital First GP practice readiness checklist to support practice staff in delivering digital services.

General Practice Appointment Data

Rapid changes in the way that primary care services are delivered in response to COVID-19 has highlighted that not all clinical interactions are recorded in the appointment book, leading to under reporting of primary care activity. Practices are required to record all appointments in their clinical systems and should refer to new system specific guidance, published by NHS Digital, which provides tips on how to improve data quality recording.

Primary care networks will be incentivised through the Investment and Impact Fund for their practices completing both the mapping and improvements in overall appointment data quality by the end of quarter one in 2021.

This process is the foundation required to start the process of identifying how time is spent in practice and will feed into other demand and capacity tools which will support wider programmes of work and drive PCN development of measuring practice data at scale.

Consistency of data categorisation will play a key role in being able to measure data in order to better understand where practices require the support that is needed. The South East pilot programme developed “recommendations” on how to categorise appointments in line with national requirements to help support driving the ability to measure GPAD data at scale across the region. The pilot programme found that it takes on average 30-45 per practice to complete the exercise.

For those practices that categorised their appointment slot types before 31st March 2021, rest assured that they have been automatically updated in the system. It is recommended practices review the guidance and recommendations for South East region appointment categories, and then check any mapped slot types with the uplifted national categories to ensure they remain appropriately categorised.  In some cases, practices may need to re-map slot types in line with the upgraded categories and definitions.

The region Digital First team has developed a South East Regional General Practice Appointment Support Pack that includes all the materials required to enable you in your journey and NHS National Digital programme will be hosting several webinars on GP Appointment Data. Please contact Nicolas Bowyer, Implementation & Business Change Support Manager, at for additional information.

If you have any feedback on how the documents can be improved or any questions about the resource guide please let us know at