• CQC rates GP federation virtual service as “outstanding”
  • Model based around a patient app and telehealth credited with reducing GP costs and improving access to community services
  • One of 57 pilots that received national funding to improve GP access

A virtual primary care service funded as part of the government’s push to extend opening hours has been rated outstanding by the Care Quality Commission.

South Doc Services runs virtual primary care support services for the MyHealthcare GP federation out of West Health Medical Centre in south Birmingham, covering 47 practices and 300,000 patients.

This includes seven day virtual GP consultations, both by phone and online, prescriptions and appointment booking services for a range of GP and community services, including maternity, diagnostics and screening.

In its first inspection of the service, published on Thursday, the CQC praised in-house developed patient app, MyHealthcare, which provided access to health records, appointment bookings, and long term condition support.

Clinical Commissioning Group data provided to inspectors showed that patients that used the virtual prescription service cost significantly less than those that dealt directly with their practice.

Setting up this service specifically had halved the time GP practice staff reported, spending processing prescriptions, the report said.

There was also some suggestion, albeit based on unverifiable data, that the service had also reduced hospital emergency admissions by triaging NHS 111 calls.

Allowing the virtual services to book patients directly for community services, such as physiotherapy, had reduced waiting lists from weeks to days, the report said.

South Doc Service chief executive Nirmal Vora told HSJ the success was down to building trust between GPs, and in the service and supporting the virtual service with well connected physical hubs.

Mr Vora said the next big step would be to introduce a video consultation function into the app, which would connect patients via their smartphone with their regular GP and replace a Skype service that had poor uptake with patients. Testing with a small group of GPs was expected in about six weeks.

He said South Doc was also in talks with other Birmingham and Solihull GP groups around joint venture to expand the virtual service across the region. 

South Doc Services was one of 57 pilots that received money from the flagship £150m GP Access Fund. First announced by then prime minister David Cameron in 2014, and since expanded, most pilot sites have reported limited success in extending GP access.

In May, HSJ revealed only one in five pilots had achieved “full” extended opening hours for their population by the end of 2017-18.

MyHealthcare was one of only 12 that hit the target.