Ruli Pennington - Talking Local Government podcast producer @CLGdotPOD executive producer @CLGdotTV. Passionate about better public services, devolution, chess, malt whisky, women's football.


The digitalisation of primary and urgent health services


© Hernán Piñera, Touch, January 2012

As the NHS clears the way for a roll-out of online GP consultations, and councils such as Essex County Council have begun skype 'visits' for some elederly residences, have we entered the future of digital health services?

NHS England has begun a process of creating a nation wide, online consultation platform, issuing an initial information notice detailing its wish to “explore ideas for establishing a national dynamic purchasing system (DPS) for the procurement of online consulting systems." This initial notice, soon to be followed by a formal procurement notice, has been put out by the NHS to allow potential suppliers to express interest.

“This DPS, once established, will allow NHS contracting procure online consultation systems in a robust and compliant manner on a regional [or] local basis,” said the NHS.

This would deliver on promises made last year in NHS General Practice Forward View (GPFV) report that outlined a digital vision for the future of primary care services on a national and regional basis. This included a pledge to set aside £45m for CCG's and GP's to buy online consultation services.

Ultimately, a move to digital consultations would allow for urgent consultations to take place digitally. This would in effect provide a single, one-stop shop for urgent and primary care services.

“Online consultation is also increasingly a key part of patient pathways in urgent care, and the 111 Online programme aims to connect patients to urgent-care settings following a digital triage,” the NHS said. “Where possible, NHS England is keen that online consultation products can bring together a seamless experience for patients bridging primary and urgent care needs. For example, providing a single digital entry point, with the ability to interact with both primary and urgent-care settings.”

This news comes at the same time as it has been reported that Essex County Council is providing around 40 elderly residents with Samsung tablets to enable them to have face-to-face visits over Skype. Funded by the Local Government Association and NHS Digital, the substitution of home visits for online calls will allow cash-strapped councils to cut the costs of personal visits.

However, the move to digital for some health services has also come under fire from various health charities. Cliff Rich, CEO of Contact the Elderly, commented that while modern technology has benefitted the delivery of health services, "nothing can replace the essential human need for face-to-face interaction."


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