All GP surgeries in England to have digital phone lines by March 2024

The Government has announced that patients at all general practices across England will soon benefit from new digital phone lines which will make booking GP appointments easier.

So far more than 1,000 practices have signed up to make the switch from analogue systems to the new system which is designed to tackle the “8am rush”.

The Government promises that the upgraded system will ‘bring an end to the engaged tone.’  Instead care navigators will direct calls to the right professional which will mean patients will be able to find out exactly how their request will be handled on the day they call, rather than being told to call back later.  If their need is urgent, they will be assessed and given appointments on the same day. If it is not urgent, appointments should be offered within 2 weeks, or patients will be referred to NHS 111 or a local pharmacy.

It is expected every practice in the country will have the new system in place by the end of this financial year, as part of the Prime Minister’s primary care recovery plan to improve patient access to care.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said:

“We are delivering on our promises to make access to GP appointments easier while boosting staffing numbers.

“With the support of NHS England, general practices, pharmacies and dental surgeries, backed by significant investment from the government, we will bring an end to the 8am scramble for appointments.

“I’m delighted that over 1,000 general practice surgeries will soon benefit from high tech designed to make booking an appointment as easy as possible for patients for years to come.

However, tweeting about the announcement, Shadow Health Secretary, Wes Streeting said:

“This announcement is just a repeat prescription from the Tories. People have heard it all before. The reality is that under the Tories, patients find it harder than ever before to see a GP.”

Practices on older systems will receive an average investment of £60,000 each to move onto digital phones combined with updated digital tools and support for the transition.

Primary care is the way most people access the NHS and the Government has committed to modernising the way patients contact their GP surgeries.  Officials say that ‘successful care navigation can help direct 40% of requests more effectively and speeds up appointments for those who need them’.  The Government has already started training care navigators, with funding for 6,500 places - the equivalent of one member of staff per practice who can then pass on the training to colleagues. They will help assess, prioritise, respond and assist with calls and ensure those who want to see a named GP or preferred member of staff can do so and those happy to see a duty doctor can also do so.


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