Just over half of GP practices in Scotland let patients order repeat prescriptions online or by email, a report by Reform Scotland shows.

EHI reported last week that figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre suggest that only 5.6% of English patients have been “enabled” to use the same functionality.

The report from the Scottish think-tank shows that 51% of GP practices let patients order repeat medication electronically. It also says that 10% of Scottish GP practices let patients book appointments online.

Even so, the report notes that there are vast differences in the way “appointment systems operate between practices, with some only allowing appointments to be booked for that day” and others let patients book up to six weeks in advance.

There are also variations in the way that practices operate, depending on whether they are funded directly by NHS boards or operate as private contractors.

Of the 42 GP surgeries directly funded by a local health board, 12% allow patients to book repeat prescriptions and none allow appointments to be booked online.

“A common way of dealing with repeat prescriptions by a number of practices appears to be to get people to phone and leave messages. This seems far from efficient,” says the report.

“Some practices will accept repeat prescriptions by fax but not email. Indeed, a number of websites boasted of a computerised system, but did not allow you to email or fill in a form online to request a repeat prescription.”

However, in comparison to England, practices in Scotland appear to be doing well when it comes to introducing new ways of working.

EHI reported last week that the figures from the HSCIC’s indicator panel, last updated in quarter 4 of the 2013-14 financial year, shows that in England, only 5.6% of patients are covered by practices that have switched on the functionality that “enabled” them to order prescriptions, and 7.2% to book appointments.

Most practices having the functionality to offer these ‘transactional’ services, but have not enabled it. 

The Scottish think-tank reviewed all 994 GP practices in Scotland and also found that only 67% of them had a website. Of the 42 practices directly funded by the NHS, the number dropped to 29%.

“In this electronic age, where many people rely on the internet for information we recommend that any organisation which is providing a service to the public and is in receipt of public money, such as GP practices, should have a website which provides, at least, minimum contact information and information explaining how you access services,” says the report.

Commenting on the report, Reform Scotland’s director Geoff Mawdsley said it is “unacceptable” that there is such a variation in the way people can access GP services.

“We were surprised that in 2014 just 67% of GP practices have a website and only just over half allowed you to order a repeat prescription online or by email,” he said.

“The results are particularly disappointing considering that the Royal College of General Practitioners, in partnership with the Scottish Government, developed a toolkit in 2010 highlighting the usefulness of the internet in the development of GP service.”