• NHS England digital chief says all GPs must connect to the NHS app
  • NHS app will allow patients to book hospital outpatient appointments
  • Evaluation report shows app popular with patients for viewing records and repeat prescriptions
  • But report also reveals frustration over booking online appointments

Connection to the NHS app will become mandatory for all GPs, including those already providing similar digital services, according to NHS England’s digital chief.

Speaking to HSJ on Friday ahead of the publication on the NHS app’s pilot evaluation, interim chief digital officer Tara Donnelly said she expected the app to be a “universal offer” to all NHS patients.

She said: “We’d like to make it a universal offer for people, regardless of what part of the country you live in, you’d have the option of using the NHS app.” 

Asked whether this meant all GPs would be required to use the NHS app, she confirmed it would.

Ms Donnelly said she also expected the NHS app to link into the national e-referral system within 12 months, allowing patients to book an outpatient appointment.

NHS England has said it hopes to have all GP practices connected to the NHS app by July. About a third of GPs are already signed-up.

Both the NHS long-term plan and the recent GP contract include requirements for expanding digital primary care. But neither explicitly require GPs to connect to the NHS app.

Ms Donnelly said there were no plans to financially incentivise the take-up of the NHS app but so far GPs had been “very keen” to sign-up.

She added: “It is our expectation that it will be a universal offer across the country, and if there is a practice that finds it particularly tricky, we will give them extra support to help them do that.”

Some GP practices and clinical commissioning groups already have contracts with other software suppliers that provide similar services, such as appointment booking, ordering repeat prescriptions or online triage.

Ms Donnelly said NHS England was working with other software suppliers to allow them to plug into the app through open APIs. No such open APIs were currently live, she said.

She said: “The NHS app becomes the way in, but we don’t want to limit innovation in the market at all. So, we would seek to link through to providers of other digital tools.

”I understand and sympathise that there will be companies whose business model will be challenged by the existence of a national product in this space, but I think the need is there.” 

Ms Donnelly’s comments came shortly before an evaluation of the three-month pilot of the NHS app was due to be published on Monday. It shows the app is popular with patients for checking their GP records and ordering a repeat prescription, but some struggled with booking appointments.

Figures show that in the three months to 23 December last year, 3,193 patients had registered to use the app. Of those, only 337 appointments had been booked through the app, with 106 subsequently cancelled. Some patients complained their GP was not making enough appointments available for booking through the app.

After viewing their record, ordering repeat prescriptions was the most popular activity on the NHS app, with 662 orders placed.

Ms Donnelly said she was happy with the rate of uptake.

Updated figures to the end of March, provided by NHS England, show the number of patients registered on the app has now grown to 7,350, with a further 18,000 still waiting for their GP to connect to the app.

From September to March, there have been:

  • 3,200 prescriptions ordered;
  • 21,000 medical record views;
  • 1,500 appointments booked;
  • 500 appointments cancelled;
  • 4,400 clicks on A-Z; and
  • 2,200 uses of NHS 111 online.