nhs jeremy hunt

‘Birthday present’ NHS app will let patients book doctors’ appointments at any time

The NHS is launching an app later this year that will to allow patients to book doctors’ appointments, according to health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who described it as a “birthday present from the NHS to the British people”, 70 years after it was founded.

He said it would end the early morning rushes to book GP appointments and patients will also be able to look at their records, order repeat prescriptions and access 111 online for urgent medical queries.

The app will also allow patients to address longer-term concerns such as setting out their end of life care and organ donation preferences.

“The NHS app is a world-first which will put patients firmly in the driving seat and revolutionise the way we access health services,” Hunt said.

“I want this innovation to mark the death knell of the 8am scramble for GP appointments that infuriates so many patients. Technology has transformed everyday life when it comes to banking, travel and shopping.

“Health matters much more to all of us and the prize of that same digital revolution in healthcare isn’t just convenience but lives improved, extended and saved.”

Testing of the app, which will be available for patients in England, begins in September and it is expected to be ready to download from the App Store and Google Play in December.

Last year, the NHS entered into an agreement with private healthcare provider Babylon Health to let patients instigate video calls with GP’s “within minutes” through an app called GP at Hand.

The Royal College of GPs were concerned that the app could create a “twin-track” system where older patients that are less au fait with smartphones would struggle to get appointments. 

They echoed these same concerns about the new NHS app. “It is likely that smartphone savvy patients will embrace booking their GP appointments via this app – rather than calling their GP surgery - but it is important that patients who do not have a smartphone can continue to make bookings via phone or in person,” said professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs.

“Some practices already offer many online services and many have steps in place to adopt new technology, but GPs and our team are working flat out to meet patient demand and it is vital that all GP surgeries are provided with the additional support and the resources they need to ensure it is introduced as seamlessly as possible without disruptions to patients or practices.”

Sarah Wilkinson, chief executive of NHS Digital, said: “We are working hard to deliver the Secretary of State’s vision for an NHS App which provides much easier access for individuals to key NHS services.

“I have no doubt that people will hugely welcome the ability to access self-help diagnostic tools, more easily book GP appointments, view test results and order repeat prescriptions, and tell us about their personal preferences with respect to organ donation, use of their data and other aspects of their care.”

“We all know that demand for precious NHS services is escalating and for a large portion of the population digital channels are a preferred means of access to data and services, so this is an opportunity to provide the easier access people want and relieve some burden from front-line providers.”

Matthew Swindells, NHS England national director of operations and information, said the app would allow patients to take charge of their own healthcare.

He added: “The new app will put the NHS into the pocket of everyone in England, but it is just one step on the journey. We are also developing an NHS Apps Library and putting free NHS Wi-Fi in GP surgeries and hospitals.”

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