Nearly all GP practices in England are able to offer a variety of online services to patients, including access to a summary of their record, appointment booking, and ordering repeat prescriptions.

Data published today by the Health and Social Care Information Centre appears to justify the “optimism” expressed by NHS England in March that that the government’s target for online access to medical records would be hit.

The HSCIC’s indicator portal shows that on 31 March 2015, 7,566 practices were offering patients the opportunity to view a subset of their medical records online.

That is 96.8% of the total 7,813 practices in England and translates to a potential user base of more than 55 million people.

The publication of the figures comes five years after the Conservative Party pledged in its 2010 election manifesto to allow people to “check your health records online in the same way that you do your bank account”.

The initial plan was to provide patients with online access to their full patient record by 31 March 2015, but these plans were later scaled back to require GP practices to provide access to the information held by the Summary Care Record by this date

The latest figures show that the target of 95% of practices was hit; although 197 practices had still not enabled the functionality by the end of March, while a further ten had no functionality in place.

All the practices with no functionality have Microtest as their system supplier and are primarily in the Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly area, while the trusts that have functionally but have not enabled it are divided between TPP, Emis and INPS.

The number of patients actually signed up to view their records online remains relatively low, at just over 2.5 million, or 4.5% of the total number of registered patients. However, this is a big step forward from the end of December, when just 750,000 patients were signed up.

Usage is picking up too, with patients accessing their summary information 231,091 times from January to March 2015, compared to 50,189 times for the three-month period ending 31 December 2014.

GP practices have also made major progress in online booking and cancelling of appointments, with 7,670 practices (98.2%) enabling the service. The number of patients signed up for the service is also relatively impressive, standing at 6.4 million, or 11.3% of all registered patients.

During the three-month period ending 21 March 2015 this group of patients used the service just over 1 million times, although this was down on the previous quarter when it was used 1.5 million times.

Regarding the ability to order repeat prescriptions, 7,541 practices (96.5%) have enabled the relevant functionality and 6 million patients are signed up. The service was used 2.3 million times during the quarter ending March 31, although this was another decrease from the previous three months, when the figure was 3.1 million.

Other online services have a rather more limited amount of functionality. Just 782 practices (10%) allow patients to view test results online and 388 practices (5%) have enabled the ability to view letters online.

The Department of Health’s ambition, as outlined in the ‘Personalised Health and Care 2020’ IT framework, is for every citizen to be able to access his or her full health records online by 2018.

Dr Masood Nazir, a GP and national clinical lead for NHS England's Patient Online programme clarified this morning that the ambition was that "by 2018, every citizen will be able to access their full records, at the click of a button, detailing every visit to the GP and hospital, every prescription, test results, and adverse reactions and allergies."

He added that hitting the initial targt was "a key milestone on the road towards becoming a truly modern and dynamic healthcare system, which is responsive to what people want."

However, the HSCIC data shows there is a good way to go when it comes to achieving these bigger ambitions. At the moment, just 354 practices are set up to enable patients to view their full GP record online. This translates to a potential reach of just under 3 million, although just 79,453 patients are signed up so far.

Beverley Bryant, director of digital technology for NHS England said she was “delighted” that GPs had worked hard to enable flexibility of booking services.

“There is more to come as we develop services that will increasingly help patients take more control of their health,” she said. NHS England also said it is encouraging patients to ask their GP surgery to set-up their online access next time they visit.

Dr Brian Fisher, GP and co-director of patient access provider PAERS, told Digital Health News last month that more needs to be done to make patient aware of the service.