NHS to embark on £230m GP IT services upgrade

Doctor and patient meeting in an office

The NHS is to invest 230 million to upgrade the IT systems of GP practices across England to provide better care for patients.

The plan aims to increase the quality of GP care by improving patients' experience of services and reducing paperwork to free up doctors for more time with patients.

The new investment was unveiled in NHS England's 2014-16 Securing Excellence in GP IT Services report, which outlines how the NHS plans to improve its services as it continues to switch from paper to digital in a bid to stem the rising cost of care.

Funding for this new GP IT initiative will be distributed to clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) based on patient population size, which the NHS said is a "significant change from previous models".

This allowance of funds based on population data is replacing the old model, which the NHS described as "highly variable and inequitable". The health service said it hopes to have a fair level of GP IT revenue investment by April 2016, sufficient to achieve high quality services for all.

NHS England looks after primary care services, but as of April 2013, the revenue funding for GPs' IT systems was delegated to CCGs. They are now responsible for overseeing the deployment of this funding and the delivery of its associated services.

"In a restrictive financial environment, we must ensure that every pound spent on IT improves patients' experience of care and, where possible, brings efficiencies across the health and care system," said Beverley Bryant, director of strategic systems and technology at NHS England.

The financial allocations for CCGs will start this month and will be based on a "fair-share model" to promote equity and provide a consistent level of care across the country.

The health service said transferring GP IT services to it new systems will time take to resolve due to the differing levels of service provision and varied costs.

It will therefore offer a transition fund over the next two years for those CCGs that have higher than average GP IT running costs.

The report said the initiative should result in increased funding for most areas, while protecting existing services in other areas. But it said should CCGs forecast underspending within their budget year, NHS England may decide to reallocate the funding.

"Digital systems are the foundation upon which to build a modern, efficient and responsive health service," added Bryant. "Enabling information to flow between care providers and between providers and patients will help achieve a safe, convenient and personalised health service for all."

Tracey Grainger, programme head of primary care IT at NHS England, said: "These arrangements will continue to give general practice providers a choice of high quality clinical IT systems that are tailored to local requirements while enabling the flexibility and innovation we recognise the service needs.

"This is underpinned by an on-going commitment from NHS England to continue to support and encourage the development of a world class IT infrastructure across health and care."

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt added: "Having set a challenge to the NHS to become paperless by 2018, it is great to see NHS England helping GPs turn this into reality. GPs are often the first point of call for patients and it is vital they have computer systems fit for a 21st century NHS. These improvements will help simplify services for patients and ensure we continue to provide a world class healthcare service."

Recently, the NHS has come under fire for its use of IT with regard to patient privacy and its plans to collect patient data as part of its Care.data initiative.