NHS England has extended accuRx’s contract offering free video consultation services to GPs, the supplier has confirmed.

accuRx was one of a number of suppliers drafted by NHS England to supply video consultation services freely to GPs at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the deal was due to end this month. Prior to the deal expiring NHS England was reportedly in talks with the supplier to continue to provision of video consultation services.

AccuRx confirmed to Digital Health News that the provision of its video consultation services will remain free to GPs until 31 December, 2021. It was one of 13 suppliers to have their contract extended under the GP IT Futures framework.

But Graham Kendall, director of the Digital Healthcare Council (DHC), raised concerns about the contracts being continued “without open competition”, which he said would deny local GPs “meaningful” choice over digital solutions.

“We understand why contracts were rushed through at the height of the Covid crisis last year with little or no competition, but it’s been clear for many months that the current arrangements were due to lapse,” he told Digital Health News.

“It therefore beggars belief that existing contracts look set to be rolled over without open competition just at the point that the new Digital Care Services catalogue is about to be launched.

“Rolling over incumbent contracts without competition will deny local GPs a meaningful choice in how they provide remote and online consultations, runs contrary to the spirit of local decision making set out in the recent white paper and sends deeply damaging signals to digital healthcare suppliers.”

The Digital Healthcare Council represents a number of digital healthcare suppliers and works to inform the development of policy and regulation in the industry. Two of its supplier members, Push Doctor and Doctorlink, also form part of the GP IT Framework.

A spokesperson for accuRx said the video consultation call off agreement does provide GPs with a “meaningful choice” between suppliers.

“The contract extension provides choice to GPs and CCGs and incentivises competition, while minimising potential disruption to patients and practices,” they told Digital Health News

“This national call off contract was set up under GPIT Futures back in March last year and has always provided meaningful choice between suppliers.

“It only ever covered primary care, as will the extension. The original contract was funded centrally. The costs of the extension contract will also be paid centrally to suppliers, but crucially the relevant costs in each CCG area will be offset against Digital First Primary Care (DFPC) funding that would otherwise be available to that CCG.

“CCGs can choose to opt out of the service and procure their own solutions at any time. This directly incentivises CCGs to go and procure from the new DFOCVC framework, and NHS England is encouraging commissioners to do exactly that.”

Following the deal struck with NHS England during the pandemic, accuRx announced its video consultation services would become chargeable from April 2021 under its accurRx Plus service. It’s accuRx Lite service remains free, but does not cover video consultations, online consultations or appointment reminders.

accuRx Plus launched in January 2021 and also includes patient triage, batch messaging and appointment reminders, and SMS services.

NHS England and accuRx have since signed a call off agreement extension which would see video consultation services remain free to GPs until the end of the year.

accuRx told Digital Health News the extension was designed to incentivise Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) to choose suppliers available on the Digital First, Online Consultation and Video Consultation (DFOCVC) by deducting costs from CCG allocations.

It was first reported that NHS England and accuRx were in talks to extend the agreement by Pulse. The publication reported that CCGs would be covering the cost of the chargeable accuRx services from 1 April to 31 December 2021.

The new £75m Digital First, Online Consultation and Video Consultation (DFOCVC) Framework, launched in December 2020, was designed to expand GPs access to remote monitoring services, including video consultations.

The framework builds on the GP IT Futures framework launched in January 2020. GP IT Futures provides a list of trusted IT suppliers aimed at supporting GPs and commissioners to compare and purchase digital services.

Both frameworks sit under the umbrella of the Digital Care Services catalogue, which the Digital Healthcare Council understands is due to go live soon.

AccuRx, along with a suite of more than 60 suppliers, are included on the GP IT Futures framework.