What is the online consultation fund?

9th January 2017

Although the NHS rejected recent claims from the Red Cross that there is a “humanitarian crisis” in its hospitals in England, there is no doubt that something has to be done to alleviate increasing strain on the healthcare sector.

Healthcare professionals are under enormous pressure to provide exemplary care whilst cutting costs. Patients are frustrated by delays and cancellations. Nowhere is this felt more acutely than at GP surgeries.

Investment and reform is key to the sustainability of practices which in turn will have a huge impact on reducing pressure on other areas of the NHS – primarily that of A&E admissions.

The NHS has committed to a Five Year Forward View to improve productivity and quality of care across services whilst reducing costs. An integral part of the overarching Five Year Forward View is the GP Forward View General Practice Forward View (GPFV) which announced a series of programmes to modernise and digitise practices – ultimately improving the way in which they operate to alleviate pressure on and workloads of GPs whilst improving services and quality of care for patients.

One of the announcements made in the GPFV is that of a £45 million fund to support the uptake of online consultation systems. £15 million of this will be available as of April 2017 with an additional £30 million spread across the next 2 years.

Where will the £45 million online consultation fund come from?

The funding will be allocated to CCGs allowing them autonomy to disseminate it in the most appropriate way for their practices.

23 December 2016 was the deadline for CCGs to submit their GPFV plan to NHS England. The GPFV plan included bids for the online consultation fund. CCGs were advised that their GPFV plans should follow national guidelines as well as giving evidence of local circumstances.

What can I spend the online consultation fund on?

The £45 million should be used to enable practices to purchase online consultation systems. The aim of these online consultation systems is to improve access and make the best use of clinicians’ time – freeing GPs up to do what only GPs can do.

Practices and commissioners can sign up to webinars, hosted by NHS England’s general practice development team, which will detail how the funding can be used and how to maximise the benefits of online consultations.

The first webinar takes place on 17 January 2017 – further details can be found here.

What are the advantages and benefits of an online consultation system?

Evidence to date indicates that online consultation systems can free up to 10 per cent of GPs’ time as well as improving the service for patients.

Benefits for GPs:

  • Remote management of new or pre-existing patient conditions
  • Ability to triage appointment requests based on need
  • Improved information prior to appointment as the online consultation system can feedback patient data covering many of the preliminary questions required during an appointment
  • Reduce appointment time (or in some instances remove the need for it altogether)
  • Ability to delegate the online consultation follow-up to colleagues/pharmacy

Benefits for patients:

  • Improved online access to their surgery and accredited self-help advice
  • Ability to send details of existing or new conditions to their surgery 24hrs a day
  • Signposting to other sources of help
  • Expectations are effectively managed on when they will receive feedback from their surgery (usually the next working day)
  • Empowering patients to request advice regarding conditions they may feel embarrassed to ask their GP face-to-face

Time and money are precious resources for clinicians. The online consultation system will be funded by your CCG for the next three years, therefore promising to deliver time-saving opportunities as well as a risk-free investment for surgeries across the UK.

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