The procurement of digital tools to support online primary care services during the coronavirus outbreak are to be fast-tracked for providers who don’t have the resources.

In a letter sent to primary care providers and commissioners last week GP surgeries were told to move to a triage-first model of care as soon as possible as the NHS bolsters its response to Covid-19.

The letter, sent by medical director for primary care, Nikita Kanani, and director of primary care strategy and NHS contracts, Ed Waller, states practices and commissioners should promote online consultation services where they are in place or “rapidly procure” them.

“Rapid procurement for those practices that do not currently have an online consultation solution will be supported through a national bundled procurement,” wrote in the letter.

Last week NHS England issued confidential 48-hour tender for the immediate provision of online primary care consultations.

The accelerated tender, aimed at helping the health service cope with patient demand, were due to be evaluated and awarded by midday on Monday, 23 March.

It was sent to a group of 33 trusted NHS suppliers by NHS England National Commercial Procurement Hub, Digital Health News understands.

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

To support a triage-first model of care online appointments that are pre-bookable by patients should be converted to remote triage appointments or turned off where they’re not part of the triage process, according to the letter.

“Triage may be delivered by telephone but practices should also promote online consultation and introduce an online consultation service where they don’t already have it,” it adds.

“Telephone access should be maintained to ensure services are available to those patients where there are barriers to digital access.

“Video consultations should be used for remote management where possible. Options are being developed nationally to enable roll out of video consultation capability to all practices as soon as possible.”

It follows previous guidance from NHS England, issued on 5 March, advising GP surgeries to go digital-first to in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The letter urged Britain’s 7,000 GP surgeries to assess patients online or via telephone and video appointments wherever possible.

The health service is grappling to cope with unprecedented patient demand during the outbreak, which has seen an influx of calls and queries to NHS 111 services.

In a further bid to prevent people suspected of having coronavirus from visiting their GP unnecessarily, NHS Digital has made fit for work notes available digitally through the NHS website and NHS 111 online.