GP surgeries likely to miss online targets

A 'wide-ranging disparity' among GP practices in Scotland offering online services has been revealed in new research.

Health boards are falling short of the target of having 90 per cent of GP practices offering online appointment booking
Health boards are falling short of the target of having 90 per cent of GP practices offering online appointment booking

The situation is so bad that the Scottish Government’s goal of having at least 90 per cent of surgeries offering repeat prescriptions and appointment booking online by the end of 2017 will be missed, according to online think tank Reform Scotland.

The Scottish Government insists a £500 million investment to bring about a “transformation” in primary care will include the latest technology. But ministers are now facing calls to help hard-pressed GPs practices do more to go digital seven years after flagship plans for such a push were first unveiled.

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The research from Reform Scotland obtained through Freedom of Information shows health boards across the country are falling short of the target of having 90 per cent of practices offering online appointment booking and repeat prescribing.

Highland is struggling badly, with fewer than 30 per cent of practices complying, compared with Borders which has 78 per cent compliance for booking and 95 per cent for prescribing.

The think tank has called for NHS boards to allow new GP surgeries to open up alongside existing practices to stimulate competition and give patients more choice.

“There is no reason for the state to protect GP practices, which are private businesses, from competition and this would increase choice and diversity as well as making practices more responsive to the needs of patients,” it said.

Reform Scotland also wants improvements to NHS Scotland’s Inform website to provide more detailed online information. Research director Alison Payne said: “The Scottish Government and the Royal College of General Practitioners have recognised the benefit of offering more services, such as repeat prescriptions and booking appointments, online. Yet it is clear from these figures that too few people can benefit from these services.

“Ever since the NHS was created, it has always been the case that the majority of GPs were private contractors, just like opticians. If we can choose where to get our eyes tested then we should be able to apply the same flexibility to choose our doctor. There are significant differences in digital access arrangements across Scotland’s GP practices – differences where the practice size or location are irrelevant.

“However, despite these differences, patients have little choice over who and where their GP is. By giving people greater choice over their GP surgery this will give them much greater influence over the way services are developed.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said an additional £500m a year will be invested by 2021/22 to transform primary care in the NHS in Scotland.

He said: “Investing in new systems means GPs will be able to access and record medical information more quickly, giving them more time to spend with patients during consultations.”