Reform Scotland

GPs offline

Research reveals GP online services target set to be missed

A new research briefing by Reform Scotland, the independent, non-party think tank, has shown that there is a wide-ranging disparity in the online access arrangements being provided by GP practices.  As a result, the Scottish Government’s goal of having at least 90% of GP surgeries offering repeat prescriptions and appointment booking online by the end of 2017 is set to be missed, despite it being over seven years since the toolkit to widen digital access was first published by the Scottish Government in partnership with the Royal College of General Practitioners

The Reform Scotland report, entitled “GPs Offline”, sets out original research revealing that, despite the Scottish Government target, most Scottish health boards are falling far short of this benchmark.

The Scottish Government’s Health & Care Experience Survey shows that four of the five most negatively answered GP questions relate to access issues.

The data in the briefing comes from Freedom of Information requests to the Scottish Government and Health Boards.  The responses also indicated that some GP practices have the ability to offer these online services, but choose not to.

Reform Scotland’s briefing also points out that, should a patient be dissatisfied with their current access arrangements, the NHS Scotland “Inform” website does not provide adequate information to make a knowledgeable choice of alternative practice.

“Surveys such as the Scottish Government’s Health and Care Experience Survey tend to suggest that while the public often praise the care they receive from GPs, there can be frustrations with the difficulty in accessing that care.

“The Scottish Government and the Royal College of General Practitioners have recognised the benefit of offering more services, such as repeat prescriptions and booking appointments, online. Yet it is clear from these figures that too few people can benefit from these services.

Ever since the NHS was created, it has always been the case that the majority of GPs were private contractors, just like opticians. If we can choose where to get our eyes tested then we should be able to apply the same flexibility to choose our doctor.

“There are significant differences in digital access arrangements across Scotland’s GP practices – differences where the practice size or location are irrelevant. However, despite these differences, patients have little choice over who and where their GP is. By giving people greater choice over their GP surgery this will give them much greater influence over the way services are developed.

The report also calls for immediate improvements to be made to NHS Scotland’s Inform website to provide comprehensive online information, similar to the NHS Choices equivalent covering England, to allow individuals to make an informed decision when choosing a GP.