• Practices also urged to move to triage-first model “as soon as possible”
  • Also encouraged to enable record sharing across primary networks
  • Comes as NHSE increases its digital response to coronavirus outbreak

Digital tools procurement will be fast-tracked for GPs who do not have the resources to provide online consultations, as the NHS ramps up its response to the coronavirus pandemic.

A letter sent by medical director for primary care, Nikita Kanani, and director of primary care strategy and NHS contracts, Ed Waller, to GPs and commissioners on Thursday also urged practices to move to a triage-first model of care “as soon as possible” to aid the response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Practices and commissioners are advised to promote online consultation services to patients “where they can” or “rapidly procure online consultation services”.

The letter stated: “Rapid procurement for those practices that do not currently have an online consultation solution will be supported through a national bundled procurement.

“This will be available within the next 14 days and will be accessed by commissioners on behalf of practices. Commissioners should approach our regional team for more information on this process.”

The letter added telephone access should remain in place to serve patients who do not have access to digital services.

It said: “Triage may be delivered by telephone but practices should also promote online consultation and introduce an online consultation service where they don’t already have it.

“Practices should manage patients remotely unless in-person care is clinically required, in order to minimise infection risk. Current pre-booked appointments should be carried out remotely unless in-person care is clinically required.”

Practices have also been urged to enable record sharing across primary networks “where this is not already in place”, while patients should be “strongly encouraged” to use online services to order repeat prescriptions.

This advice comes as NHS England ramps up its digital response to coronavirus. On Tuesday, NHS leaders told all healthcare organisations that remote GP appointments should be rolled out to the elderly and vulnerable “as priority” to help with the medical response to the pandemic.

Once the vulnerable have been set up, the focus should then turn to extending digital services “to cover “all routine activity as soon as possible”.

On Wednesday, it was revealed NHSX is working on a contact tracking app to map the spread of coronavirus through the population. Meanwhile, NHS Digital is developing an algorithm which will identify patients who are most at risk of developing complications as a result of coronavirus.