• Survey of 32 video and online GP consultations services finds none able to link with new NHS App
  • The long-term plan commits NHS to using the app as digital “front door” for patients, including for online GP consultations.
  • NHS App team working with seven suppliers, including Babylon Health, eConsult and Livi

The NHS App designed to be a digital “front door” for all NHS patients is unable to connect with any current providers of online GP consultations, HSJ can reveal.

A leaked NHS Digital briefing, obtained by HSJ, shows a survey of 32 online consultation suppliers such as Livi and Babylon Health, found none had the technology to integrate with the NHS App.

GPs have also been given just six months to connect to the app enabling their patients to book appointments and order repeat prescriptions digitally.

Several digital primary care companies operating in the NHS have told HSJ the process of connecting their software to the NHS App was unclear and had been poorly handled. Some were concerned the NHS App would disrupt existing contracts with local commissioners or GP practices to provide online consultations and other digital patient services, many of which have been funded centrally.

The results of the survey carried out by NHS Digital mean NHS patients would have to use a secondary app for online consultations, which the briefing described as “confusing”.

The NHS long-term plan commits to building the NHS App into a single digital “front door” for patients. Eventually, the app will “provide advice, check symptoms and connect people with healthcare professionals – including through telephone and video consultations”, the plan states. 

An initial version of the NHS App was launched in December last year and does allow patients to check their symptoms, book appointments, order repeat prescriptions, access their health records and update their data sharing preferences but not, yet, carry out online consultations.

Currently, the vast majority of patients can only use the symptom checker because their GPs have not yet connected to the app, but all GPs are required to do so by July this year. All GPs are also expected to provide online consultations by 2023.

The briefing document shows NHS Digital is working more closely with a small group of online suppliers to tweak the NHS App to connect with their online consultations services. These include video consultation app Livi, that recently hired NHS England’s chief digital officer Juliet Bauer, and eConsult, a company spun out of the Hurley Group that is already the most widely used online consultation software in the NHS.

The briefing document found that Livi, which is already being used by GPs in North West Surrey, was unable to plug into the NHS App and expressed concerns that expecting patients to use two separate apps could “cause user confusion”. NHS Digital had more success tweaking the NHS App to connect with eConsult but concluded that no supplier was able to connect seamlessly with the NHS App.

“As the suppliers do not have the required technological architecture, they would need to develop their products before they were in a position to integrate with the NHS App.”

NHS Digital referred HSJ’s questions regarding the NHS App to NHS England. An NHS England spokesman said: “The NHS App team at NHS England and NHS Digital are working with 32 companies to investigate the potential of online consultations in the NHS App.

“No final decisions have yet been made and the team are continuing to engage with the market to shape the future of online consultations for a better patient experience.”

NHS Digital has also had “more detailed conversations” with seven suppliers that were willing to “to engage further on a more technical level”, he said. As well as Livi and eConsult, these included Dr IQ, Babylon health, Q Doctor, DoctorLink, and Emis.