NHS England has released its plans for how more than £230m in GP IT funding will be spent over the next year to ensure all practices across England have high-quality IT systems.
An updated operating model for 2014-16, ‘Securing Excellence in GP IT Services,’ aims to "improve the quality of GP care by enhancing patients’ experience of services, supporting and encouraging greater integration of care and providing efficiency benefits for practices by reducing paperwork, freeing up more time for patient care", a statement from NHS England says.
The new document confirms what EHI exclusively revealed last month; that GP IT funding will now be paid to clinical commissioning groups on a per-head-of-population basis, with some funding kept back to form a 'transitional fund' to which CCGs can apply if they need it.
From the total pot, £140m will be allocated equitably by GP registered population. This means a payment of around £2.60 per patient. Another £20m will be available as part of the transitional fund. This money is classed as revenue and is for day-to-day running costs such as staff and operating expenses.
Up to £66m in capital will be available for upgrading and replacing IT systems and hardware where needed. A further £10m will be used by NHS England’s local area teams to commission certain local IT support services, which are essential to the operation of primary care nationally.
Dr Paul Cundy, joint chair of the RCGP and BMA joint IT committee, said GP IT funding had been a "real mess" as primary care trusts did not properly account for what they were spending.
He described the ring fencing of the GP IT budget as critical and distributing the money evenly as very reasonable as "everyone should have equal access to the resources."
"You can't have a ten-fold apparent variability in what's being spent on GP IT so where do you start? I'm not suggesting this is ultimately the best way to deal with it as costs are going to be higher in rural areas, but it seems to be a very sensible place to start."
NHS England says its updated operating model "lays the foundations for all GP practices to be able to offer online transactions to patients in the future, such as booking appointments, ordering repeat prescriptions and accessing their individual health records online.
"It also supports the aim of implementing integrated digital care records across the NHS, which will help make patients’ journeys seamless by giving health professionals in both hospitals and primary care access to the information they need, without patients having to constantly repeat themselves."
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 said: “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.”
Another document outlining the strategic direction for GP IT is due to be released in the summer. NHS England is also developing a primary care digital maturity index, with the first iteration due out by April 2015. This would measure both the IT in use at practices and the outcomes it enables.