NHS England have announced funding of £48 million for integrated care boards (ICBs), as part of the Digital Pathways Framework, to fund capabilities relating to digital pathways and demand and capacity tools.

The aim of the Digital Pathways Framework is to drive a rapid move to “modern general practice” by connecting ICBs with approved suppliers for digital GP tools for messaging, consultations and care navigation.

Modern general practice is an approach set out in the ‘Delivery plan for recovering access to primary care‘, published in May 2023, which aims to use better digital telephony, digital online contact tools and improved workflows to improve patient access to GPs.

In the ‘Digital pathways tools guidance and next steps for 2024/ 2025‘, published on 25 April 2024, NHSE say part of the approach will see “expanded scope” to include demand and capacity management tools.

Capabilities in the scope include care navigation, online consultation or service user consultation, online administrative requests, prescription ordering (for patients), communication management, video consultation, record viewing (for patients), and cross-organisational appointment booking.

In October 2023, NHS England launched an open procurement contract worth £300m to establish a framework agreement for the provision of digital pathways solutions, but was forced to suspend it in February 2024 after a claim was issued over the process.

Following the challenge to the framework, the guidance confirms that legal action is ongoing, and progress has been delayed.

“On this basis, we believe the earliest date the framework would be awarded is June 2024”, NHSE says.

As a result of the delay, it says that the national support offer is being enhanced, enabling ICBs “to take advantage of the available funding to support uplifted tools, in line with the modern general practice model, throughout 2024/25”.

For ICBs to access funding, the guidance states that the procurement hub must be engaged by the ICB to support the buying process in line with GP IT operating model arrangements.

NHSE says that the funding of £48m equates to an “average of 76p per patient”, adding that requests up to a maximum annual equivalent of 93p per patient will be considered with the funding allocated to ICBs on a “first-come first-served basis”.

Allocations will be reimbursed by NHSE upon provision of details of payment made to suppliers by the ICB, the guidance adds.