Health

GPs should urge patients 'to go online'

woman using a laptop Image copyright SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

GPs should actively encourage patients to go online for booking appointments and ordering repeat prescriptions, according to a review of digital services in the NHS in England.

Baroness Martha Lane Fox, former internet entrepreneur and government adviser, wants the NHS to push forward with an IT revolution.

Her recommendations include ensuring every NHS building provides free wi-fi.

She says every GP practice should get 10% of patients to go digital by 2017.

Currently there is wide variation in online access at different surgeries.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt asked the baroness to look at how take-up of internet services could be made widely available and include the 10 million people who currently have no online access.

'Bold challenge'

Baroness Lane Fox, who has founded the organisation Doteveryone, dedicated to boosting public knowledge of the internet, also says that the NHS should do more to train and support staff and patients in digital skills.

She said: "One of the founding principles of the NHS was to ensure that everyone - irrespective of means, age, sex, or occupation - should have equal opportunity to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available."

Tim Kelsey, NHS England national director for patients and information, said: "Digital health tools can dramatically improve people's lives and well-being.

"These bold challenges to the system to ensure that every person in the UK benefits are very welcome."

Image copyright SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

The report's recommendations will be considered on Tuesday by the National Information Board, comprising health, social care and local government leaders.

Sources indicate that the board will throw its weight behind the report.

Finance for the measures will come from a health technology fund announced by Chancellor George Osborne in his spending review in November.

Rural access

The Royal College of General Practitioners said practices were already in the forefront of using technology to improve patient care, but access in remote and rural areas was severely limited and this needed to be addressed.

Dr Imran Rafi of the RCGP said: "The college has produced guidance for GPs and practice staff to promote online services to patients as part of its Patient Online toolkit.

"However this cannot be the sole responsibility of GPs and their teams at a time when the profession is under such huge workload and resource pressures - policy-makers, and indeed patients themselves, also have a role to play."

It will be up to NHS England to decide what help GPs can be given to reach the 10% target.

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