Digital phone system upgrade ‘to end 8am scramble’ for GP appointments

All GP surgeries in England will move to a digital phone system by spring, potentially bringing an end to the “8am scramble” when patients usually rush to secure an appointment.

More than 1,000 practices have signed up for the upgrade, which will come into force from March.

The switch has been backed by a £240 million investment from the Government, which was announced in May as part of the Primary Care Recovery Plan.

It is hoped it will allow patients to contact their GP faster and have their request dealt with on the day rather than having to call back.

Patients should also be able to avoid getting an engaged tone, with online systems able to provide them with more options.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: “We are delivering on our promises to make access to GP appointments easier while boosting staffing numbers.

“With the support of NHS England, general practices, pharmacies and dental surgeries, backed by significant investment from the Government, we will bring an end to the 8am scramble for appointments.”

The Government said progress is being made on the Primary Care Recovery Plan, with talks ongoing with NHS England and pharmaceutical companies.

Consultations will also be launched to explore the possibility of giving dental hygienists and pharmacy technicians more power to prescribe certain medicines.

Health minister Neil O’Brien said the Government wants to “make sure we are making the best use of skilled professionals” while “freeing up dentists and pharmacists to carry out vital services”.

“We have so much skill and experience within our surgeries and pharmacies and by better using technology, transferring services and cutting bureaucracy we will have a more efficient and effective service,” he added.

Elsewhere, women could access oral contraception through pharmacies rather than their family doctor, while patients who need prescription drugs for seven common conditions, such as earache or shingles, would be able to get them without a GP appointment.

Blood pressure checks at local pharmacies will also be expanded.

Dr Kiren Collison, a GP and interim medical director for primary care at NHS England, said: “GP teams are already treating record numbers of patients but we are determined to improve access further, which is why it is fantastic that all GP practices will be upgrading their telephone systems to make it as easy as possible for patients to contact their practice.

“The NHS is also offering people more convenient options in how they access care, with pharmacies playing a central role in managing the nation’s health, and the pharmacy consultation announced today will help ensure that more staff can provide lifesaving checks and medication on the high street.”