Eleven suppliers have been selected to provide video consultations for primary care to help the NHS cope with unprecedented patient demand during the coronavirus outbreak, Digital Health News understands.

They were selected from a group of 33 trusted suppliers that were sent a confidential 48-hour tender for the immediate provision of online primary care consultation by NHS England last week.

The accelerated tender documents were due to be evaluated and awarded by midday on Monday, 23 March. It is understood that successful suppliers were notified on 25 March.

Suppliers were asked to bid on five lots, including text messaging, video consultations and automated triage.

Eleven have been chosen to provide video consultation services across the country. Each supplier has been told they will be working with a number Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) but the exact regions are yet to be confirmed.

The successful suppliers for video consultation include:

  • LIVI
  • Doctorlink
  • eConsult
  • EMIS
  • Engage Consult
  • iPLATO
  • Q Doctor
  • Lincus
  • Ask NHS
  • FootFall
  • Visiba Care

Tina Marshall, UK country manager of Visiba Care, said: “We are ready to help the NHS to roll out digital solutions to provide the public with access to remote online consultations and welcome this news which green lights 39 CCGs across the country to use Visiba Care to get up and running safely, quickly and efficiently with the digital tools they need to tackle this pandemic head on.

“This contract will mean that Visiba Care can help, to a much greater extent, in meeting the rising demand of primary care consultations, safely, efficiently and responsibly and we have the capacity and technology to support the NHS through the Covid-19 outbreak in the UK.”

Juliet Bauer, UK MD of LIVI, added: “Maintaining patients’ access to healthcare whilst keeping our population safe from the spread of infection is our priority. We are working round the clock to ensure our health service can manage the surge in demand from patients.

“Our experience across several countries treating people via video consultations, as well as home monitoring patients with Covid-19, means we are prepared to effectively respond to the virus. Digital healthcare is central to the NHS’s response to fighting the pandemic, and we will continue do everything we can to support both the needs of patients and clinicians.”

Dr Murray Ellender, NHS GP and chief executive of eConsult, said: “Offering a variety of online services, including triage and consulting, is in the best interest of both patients and doctors.

“While these should never replace face-to-face time with doctors, it ensures the safety of those seeking treatment as we are seeing with Covid-19 and also offers much-needed support for GPs, especially when having to deal with the significant and rapid increase in patient numbers we are seeing.”

Suzy Foster, chief executive of EMIS Health, added: “Digital health services have a critical role to play in helping the NHS and patients to navigate through these unprecedented challenges.

“We have acted swiftly to make new resources available so that clinicians and healthcare professionals can continue to support their patients, including rolling out our video consultation software to all our EMIS Web users.

“We’re also working hard to help reduce demand on frontline NHS services by signposting patients to trusted information and advice. We’re keeping the situation under constant review and seeking every opportunity to give additional support wherever we can.”

Two suppliers have also been chosen to deliver the “customisable” lot, which would allow patients to complete a questionnaire on their symptoms in order to be directed to the correct services.

The two suppliers chosen to deliver this are FootFall and Visiba Care, sources close to Digital Health News have confirmed.

The tender was sent out by NHS England National Commercial Procurement Hub to its approved suppliers under the Dynamic Purchasing System Framework for online consultations, which includes the likes of Babylon, PushDoctor, Ada Health, EMIS, LIVI and Visiba Care.

It’s not known whether big names like Babylon, which is noticeably absent from the selected suppliers, bid on the tender.

Graham Kendall, director of the Digital Healthcare Council, said: “Undoubtedly there is huge demand for online consultations at scale and the rapid tender process shows how quickly it’s possible to move when there’s a coordinated and determined effort.

“While the tender makes new online consultation and triage functionality available, it had a very specific scope so we expect this to be just the first step. There are some excellent providers on the list and there are many more providers that offer services that go beyond the scope of the tender.

“We need to embrace all of that capability to deliver a sustainable increase in online capability both in primary care and across the wider range of care services.”

In a blog post on the provision of video consultation in the wake of coronavirus, Diane Baynham, head of service design for digital urgent and emergency care at NHSX, and Mary Hudson, deputy director for digital first primary care for NHS England, said the deployment and implementation of video consultations was being accelerated to support remote consultations.

To support practices that are yet to put video consultation services in place, NHSX has confirmed the use of WhatsApp, Skype and other off-the-shelf messaging apps can be used as a short-term measure, they said.

NHS Digital has also fast-tracked assurance of video products on the new Digital Care Services Framework (DCSF).

Products from the tender and the DCSF will be centrally funded, they confirmed.

Suppliers have been contacted for comment.

For more information on the assured video consultation products available via the Digital Care Services Framework (GPIT Futures), please visit NHS Digital’s website.

Digital Health Unplugged will be publishing a special coronavirus edition of the podcast on 27 March to keep you up-to-date on the latest news from the NHS and suppliers as the outbreak continues. You can tune in on Spotify, iTunes and Apple Podcasts as well as on Digital Health News.