NHS considers national roll-out for doctor's messaging system

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The NHS is considering a national roll-out of a messaging system that has improved health care for patients in 125 GP surgeries via out-of-hours telephone advice services.

Paul Cundy, the GP who pioneered the system at surgeries in the London boroughs of Merton, Sutton and Wandsworth, said out-of-hours messaging is ready for adoption in surgeries across the UK, which are independent contractors to the NHS.

Cundy said the NHS, as well as patients, would benefit from such a system. "When the NHS introduces its Integrated Case Records system, it is going to need a system like this. Developing it again from scratch would cost millions," he said.

The system, known as GePmail, allows private firms, GP collectives' out-of-hours services and the NHS Direct helpline to send instant updates directly into patients' electronic medical records.

It ensures that doctors are kept informed of their patients' treatment and allows them to send special instructions to the out-of-hours service without the need for surgeries to employ administrative staff to re-type records and send faxes, as is currently the case.

Cundy, who runs a company supplying the service to surgeries at a cost of £500 a year, said GePmail will become increasingly valuable to GPs as the health service expands the range of alternative services on offer to patients.

Patient confidentiality is fundamental to the operation of the system. The latest version allows surgeries to sign up for secure digital certificates on the web.

The certificates, based on open source technology managed by Diginus, encrypt and authenticate the messages, which can be sent over the internet or through the NHS e-mail system, NHS Net.

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