All areas of primary care in England are expected to have a digital locum bank set up by the end of the year.

It will be supported by a £250m fund announced by the government today (October 14) to increase access to GP appointments.

The winter rescue package is aimed at increasing the number of face-to-face appointments, with funding expected to be put towards hiring extra locum staff to provide more same-day appointments.

The investment will fund locums and support from other health professionals such as physiotherapists and podiatrists.

To support access to staff, digital locum banks are expected to be in place across the country by December this year. The digital banks allow GP practices to quickly match supply and demand for staff through an online system instead of manually calling for locum staff.

Practices that do not provide “appropriate” levels of face-to-face appointments will not be able to access the additional funding, according to a statement from NHS England.

The plan also include a commitment to improve telephony systems which have experienced an “unprecedented increase in demand” during the pandemic.

As part of this, NHS England will enable and drive full adoption of cloud-based telephony across all practices “as rapidly as possible”.

It is hoped the upgrades will reduce long waits for patients when contacting a GP by phone.

“As well as providing more phone lines for inbound and outbound calls, and automated queuing, cloud-based systems can provide data about patient demand to help give feedback about current performance and inform practices about the level of administrative support they need for call-handling,” the plan states.

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of the NHS, said: “Improving access to high quality general practice is essential for our patients and for the rest of the NHS too.

“It is a personal priority and today NHS England is taking both urgent and longer term action to back GPs and their teams with additional investment and support.”

Further assessment of the impact of remote care compared to face-to-face appointments will be undertaken with NHS England set to work with the National Institute for Health Research to secure “big data” analysis of the way patients access GPs.

Digital Health News recently looked at the impact digital-first primary care has had on GPs and whether tech is to blame for mounting workloads.