The government’s pledge to give patients online access to their GP records by March 2015 has been scaled back again, with practices now only required to have a plan to provide access by the deadline.

The Department of Health’s 2012 NHS information strategy said that all GP practices would be expected to provide electronic booking, cancelling of appointments, online prescriptions, electronic  online access to their record to anyone who wants it by 2015.

EHI reported last October that the level of proposed patient access had been reduced, with GP practices only required to provide access to the brief details in a patient’s Summary Care Record.

In its Transforming Primary Care report, published jointly with NHS England last week, the DH now says that practices must either provide people with access “or have published plans for how they will do so” by March 2015.

The requirement for GPs to allow the electronic transfer of records between practices by the same deadline also allows practices to simply have a plan in place by then.

Patients will “increasingly” be able to book GP appointments and order repeat prescriptions online from this month, but the DH does not provide a date by which all practices must provide these services.         

The report also highlights key changes to the new GP Systems of Choice contract which started earlier this month, making clear the need for GPs securely share records with other services when patients are happy for them to do so.

Specific changes include placing a patient’s NHS number on all communications related to their care so information could be securely shared, updating the SCR on a daily basis with relevant patient information, and providing information securely to the HSCIC.

NHS England is also working with GPs on plans to provide all ambulance services, A&E departments and NHS 111 services with access to patient records, with a goal of providing access to at least a third of providers by 2015 and full coverage by 2016.

The report also includes an update on the 14 “integrated care pioneers” chosen by the DH for their “ambitious and innovative approaches” to improve care, saying the chosen local areas are continuing to have success and were showing others how to provide “seamless systems of care and support”.

In a foreword to the report, health secretary Jeremy Hunt says GP practices were “one of the NHS’ greatest assets” but needed to be updated as a wider transformation.

Hunt says the changes outlined in the report had the potential to save £500m a year in hospital costs.

The report explains that this figure is based on figures from the integrated care pilots, which demonstrated that proactive case management had “the potential” to reduce hospital costs by around 10% for people with complex needs.

“If this programme results in a similar decrease in hospital activity then it would be reasonable to expect that this would result in savings of approximately £0.5 billion a year in secondary care,” says the report.