GPs are now contractually required to ‘offer and promote’ remote consultations during core hours, new NHS England guidance has confirmed.
Under changes to the GMS contract enacted in October, practices should ‘offer and promote’ online and video consultation tools, plus other electronic communication methods.
The requirement to offer and promote remote consultations during routine hours was agreed as part of the five-year contract announced in 2019.
However, amid a row earlier in the year over whether practices should be allowed to switch off online consultation software out of hours to manage demand, it emerged that the requirement to offer online consultations even within hours was never actually implemented into the contract.
In a bulletin to practices in May, the BMA said that offering and promoting online consultations would ‘eventually’ become a contractual requirement within core hours.
The new guidance, published as a draft on the FutureNHS platform last month, has confirmed that this has now happened, and from October all practices have been contractually required to ‘offer and promote’ to their patients:
- An online consultation tool;
- A video consultation tool;
- A secure electronic communications method; and
- An online online facility to provide and update personal or contact information.
However, all these should be offered ‘alongside rather than as a replacement for other access and communication methods’ such as face-to-face contact, it said.
Practices must also signpost patients to their online consultation tool and the NHS symptom checker on their website or any other online presence such as on social media, it added.
NHS England said the aim of online consultation tools is to ‘provide benefits to practices in managing and prioritising their workload’ as well as giving patients greater choice and flexibility.
There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ model and practices should ‘co-design’ this with patients and staff, it added.
The guidance recognised practices will need ‘time and support’ to do this and said funding is available to ICSs to support practices and PCNs in implementing the changes.
This comes after NHS England recently announced that parts of QOF will be suspended and income-protected until April to free up GP capacity for delivery of the expanded Covid booster programme.