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The future's bright for general practice

Justine Brightwell, Programme Head for GP IT Futures, looks at the ambitious programme to revolutionise how IT systems procurement works for general practice.

By Justine Brightwell. 4 June 2019

A computer screen showing the GP Futures Catalogue

Running the GP IT Futures programme at NHS Digital has felt a bit like taking part in a ‘Back to the Future’ sequel.

Some may say it is an unenviable role but it has the straightforward goal of delivering the systems and technology needed for the long-term benefit of general practice.

The challenge was – we knew where we needed to get to and what components were necessary. We just needed to make sure everything was done in the right order.

Three years on, and having had the luxury of a super-creative, professional, tenacious team, we have developed an ambitious plan to revolutionise IT procurement in general practice. I am so delighted that the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) Invitation to Tender is finally out and the primary care system supplier market is now open for business – it’s a major achievement.

Digital Buying Catalogue - an online shop window for suppliers

One part of the work that I’m really proud of is the online Digital Buying Catalogue – essentially the shop window for suppliers to list their solutions to general practice. Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that – we needed to future proof the catalogue and ensure it could be responsive, dynamic and transparent for the provision of IT to primary care.

On the journey to develop the catalogue I got some great insights from new potential technology suppliers to the market. Some of them have been hugely successful in other countries as well as in the UK private sector, and now have demonstrable solutions to offer and benefit the NHS.

I’d say one of the challenging aspects has been collaborating with such a plethora of stakeholders - CCGs, GPs, practice managers, new innovators, existing tech suppliers, the research community, not to mention all the various government organisations. Taking all their priorities into account, managing their expectations and working to co-create something that they’re all on board with has been tough – but hugely satisfying. 

Many questions were initially asked about this programme, such as ‘why spend so much time, money and resource addressing the market supply of technology within primary care when there is so much to do elsewhere in the NHS?’ 

This is a fair question, and we all have our own stories of secondary care staff still carrying patient notes around in plastic bags full of pink folders. But the reality is that, because primary care has had 100% take-up of technology, they are in a great position to do much more. This can have an immediate impact on supporting other areas of health and care, such as community and mental health.

GPs welcome improved access to digital solutions

From conversations I have had with CCGs and GPs, they are looking forward to having confidence in accessing approved suppliers for some of the more practical areas of delivering care, such as social prescribing. 

Video consultation and e-consultation are services that have long been on GPs’ ‘wanted list’, and of course they have been available for a while via other routes. Feedback tells us that some practitioners are still reluctant to offer digital consultations.

However, we have seen an increasing number of GPs providing these services to their patients but they want to ensure they can select the best supplier for them, and that the solution is tried and tested within the NHS. The Digital Buying Catalogue is all about giving this confidence to general practice, and allowing new suppliers to add their innovations which are evaluated and approved for use in the NHS.

It was great to see a recent tweet from Hadley Beeman, the Chief Technology Advisor to the Secretary of State: “the NHS want services to run over the Internet – so making it easier to build digital tools for the NHS”.  I read this and thought GP IT Futures is exactly about enabling and supporting this to happen.

We are now focused on moving towards open, modern, cloud native architectures, with consistent technical and open data standards. This is so important in delivering interoperability across systems, and between care settings and supporting new models of care and primary care networks.

It is vital that we in the NHS raise our game in the technology we can provide in a safe and secure way, to meet the growing demands of our digitally native patients. 

It’s so good to have been here from the start, surrounded by visionaries, innovators and analysts all pulling together. The critical bit now is making sure we keep the lights on in general practice. We might not quite have a fully-flying DeLorean yet, but what we have done so far will transform services. 

In the meantime, we must, must, must (as my GP colleagues remind me every day), maintain service levels for general practice IT.  We wait with hoverboards at the ready, to support all aspects of what this bright future holds for our NHS.

Justine Brightwell

Justine Brightwell

Last edited: 30 September 2019 12:45 pm