NHS England has committed to providing GPs with IT solutions to enable them to work remotely during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
NHS England said it was making ‘a commitment’ to support every practice ‘where possible’ with the ‘solutions’ they need for any of their staff to work remotely, including providing them with laptops.
However, GP leaders said that provision was 'not consistent enough' and that practice teams need access to testing so that they can return to the frontline.
NHS England director for digital primary care Dr Masood Nazir admitted that practices had come under pressure to date due to the Government's advice on self-isolation and lacking IT infrastructure.
He said: ‘There’s been a big pressure for practices where staff have not been able to attend work [because] either they may be in the group who may be required to shield, or they’ve been self-isolating or unwell.'
However, he added: ‘Our main aim is to support every practice in the country so that as staff are unwell or working from home they have the technology they need to be able to do this.’
Dr Nazir, who was speaking in a live webinar on Thursday evening, said that NHS England is working closely with CCGs and ‘the regions’ to ensure practices ‘get what is needed’.
In some cases, this will mean that ‘local organisations’ will provide GPs and practice staff with laptops equipped with all the secure accesses, clinical system and functionality that are needed, he said.
The latest standard operating procedure for general practice, published this week, confirmed that additional laptops and associated equipment 'will be provided' to enable remote working.
It said: 'Rapid assessment and approval of regional requirements for a large number of additional laptops and associated equipment will be complete over the coming days centrally so that CCGs can deliver support for remote working to practice staff that need it.'
Dr Nazir added that guidance will soon be published outlining the different options available, including access to a ‘virtual desktop’, dialling in to a desktop or using a secure token and smart card reader to access clinical systems via a personal device.
Dr Nazir also said that total triage in practices has so far been a success, with telephone and video consultations ‘all working very well’.
All practices are now encouraged to move to ‘routine’ electronic prescriptions alongside a change to the system that means patients can now edit their nominated pharmacy if it is closed, he added.
Other digital changes which aim to streamline care during the pandemic include a proposal to switch on the summary care record with ‘additional information’ and enabling the GP Connect system ‘at a national level’, Dr Nazir added.
He said: ‘This will allow the information that’s in the GP record to be more readily available to different health and care professionals around the country who need that information to safely provide that care to those patients.’
However, BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse that the measures do not go far enough.
He said: 'Whilst we have a number of areas where [GPs] have been provided with laptops or IT facility to enable them to continue to work from home, that’s not widespread enough and consistent enough to enable everyone to work in that way - and people want to be back with their colleagues on the frontline.
'We’ve seen promises of ramping up testing to 100,000 a day [and] we need delivery as soon as possible of the opportunity for those in the general practice workforce to get access to testing in their local area.'
He added that there are 'large numbers' of the GP workforce at home who are 'well but self-isolating' because either they or those they live with have had some coronavirus symptoms.
The comments come as a number of GPs have shared their struggles to work remotely, on the basis of issues with IT.
Dr Mike Walton, a GP in St Albans, recounted ‘no possibility for people to do remote working’ due to the failures of N3 Connect VPN tokens.
And East London partner Dr Liam Barker described himself as ‘the last one standing’ as five other partners were isolating.
His practice was also attempting to access remote working options in light of this.