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NHS rolls out video consultations at GPs to support lockdown

Video consultation service aims to reduce face-to-face contact to protect patients and reduce infection, as well as caring for people who are mostly staying at home

The digital unit of the health service NHSX is working with NHS England and NHS Improvement in a deployment of video consultation systems in GP practices across the country. 

The technology is seen as essential to reduce face-to-face contact to protect patients and staff, minimise the risk of Covid-19 infection and care for people who are not infected but are mostly staying at home.

According to Diane Baynham, NHSX’s head of service design digital urgent and emergency care, and Mary Hudson, deputy director for digital first primary care, many practices already have these tools and usage has increased rapidly in recent weeks.

However, many GPs who have the service available have not yet begun to use it. EMIS is one of the biggest GP IT system providers in England, with nearly 4,000 GP practices using its EMIS Web service. In 2017, it launched its Video Consult service, but uptake has been limited.

This echoes throughout GP practices in the UK – suppliers often offer the service, but few GP practices use it. EMIS, which normally charges GPs for the use of video consultations, has now decided to offer it for free for the next few months.

According to NHSX, practices that still don’t have technology to consult remotely will be allowed to use video conferencing tools such as Skype, WhatsApp and Facetime as a short-term measure, it said in a blog post.

However, the NHSX staff noted that the ideal scenario is to only use video products that the Digital Care Services Framework (DCS, also known as GPIT Futures) can be confident that are appropriate and secure. 

NHS Digital has fast-tracked assurance video consultation products that will be centrally funded, and a list of approved suppliers that can be immediately called off by commissioners was made available from 25 March 2020.

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