Upgraded phone technology has been rolled out across the country, enabling more patients to get through to their GP surgery for an appointment.

Almost every GP practice in England has upgraded their phone systems as part of the GP access recovery plan. More than 5,800 practices use a digital system for answering patients’ calls, allowing GP teams to manage multiple calls and helping to end the ‘8am rush’ for appointments.

During trials, this increased patients’ ability to get through to their practice by almost a third. More than nine in 10 (02%) of GP practices in England now have cloud based systems, meaning phone lines can be expanded and will not ever be engaged.

The remaining practices are agreeing dates within the next month for upgrades to happen with technology suppliers and are expected to happen from this month.

Dr Amanda Doyle, national director of primary care and community services at NHS England, said: “The NHS has delivered on its promise to upgrade GP telephone systems to make it easier for patients to contact their surgery.

“This is welcome news for patients and just one of a range of measures to make it quicker for people to get the help they need from their local GP team.

“Thanks to the hard work of staff more than 1.4 million appointments in general practice take place each working day which is a significant increase in the last four years and should really help patients trying to access their surgery.”

Extra training was also provided to staff answering calls at surgeries, so that people who need to see their family doctor are prioritised while those who would be better seen by other staff such as physiotherapists or mental health specialists can do so more quickly.

Abbey Medical Centre in Kenilworth in Warwickshire reduced the number of abandoned calls to their practice by 90% by using data from their upgraded telephone system to identify when lines were busiest and to ensure more reception staff were available at peak times.

The GP practice also focused on their most frequent callers – offering vulnerable patients more support from the same clinicians with their appointment usage reducing by three-quarters. The 25 patients who had the most appointments accounted for 8% of the total number of appointments available (50 out of 625 in a week).

However, earlier in the year the BMA warned that the new cloud-based telephony systems are significantly driving up costs for practices. GP Dr Neil Bhatia has said although the systems will improve patient experience, there are other issues that will not be resolved.

“It will make for a better experience for patients,” he said. “The key issues practices are facing relate to a mismatch between patient demand and clinical staff able to deal with enquiries in a timely fashion, and practices are hindered by funding constraints and cuts (so unable to employ extra staff). A digital telephony system won’t help that.”

Dr Bhatia added: “There’s too much work and demand and not enough staff. Ironically, an antiquated telephone system actually benefits practices as it provides a barrier to the unlimited medical enquiries that they face. Patients give up and go to see a pharmacist, walk-in-centre, NHS 111, self-treat or wait and see, which in some cases is what they should have done in the first place.”