The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) has released data showing that around 97% of the population can now access some GP services on-line. Around 55 million people can now use electronic media to book and change GP appointments, order repeat prescriptions and review summary medical records.
The availability of these on-line services has risen dramatically as, just a year ago, only 3% of patients could access them. Changes in the Government's contract with GPs introduced last year took effect in March 2015. It is now a contractual requirement for GPs to offer these services on the internet to make potential savings in time and costs and improving efficiency.
But the services currently available are limited. Much of the benefit they deliver relieves demand for administrative and support services such as booking appointments, obtaining repeat prescriptions, or changing personal details. Patient demand, however, is focussed more on access to GPs and the need to increase the overall number of GPs remains.
Commenting on the data, Andrew Clayton of Penningtons Manches' clinical negligence team, said: "Although patients' ability to access GP services and data on-line has surged over the last year, the services currently available do little to ease the fundamental tension between the number of GP appointments available and the demand from patients to see their GP face-to-face.
"The development of digital access is a good start but much more could be done to expand the services available on-line. The scope to improve efficiency is also not limited to GP practices but could be expanded to the NHS more widely to free up resources to provide more of the services that patients want."