Last reviewed 7 April 2020

NHS England has announced that GPs should be supported by their clinical commissioning group (CCG) to have online consultation systems in place by now.

GP surgeries have been advised to try to provide remote care where possible during the Coronavirus outbreak, and move to a total triage. NHS England, NHS Improvement and NHS X, the UK Government unit with responsibility for setting national policy and developing best practice for NHS technology, digital and data, have fast-tracked a tender for the procurement of online consultation facilities to make sure CCGs can get swift access to a system if no contract is currently in place.

These services will now be provided by the eleven appointed companies, which are LIVI; Doctorlink; eConsult; EMIS; Engage Consult; PreGP; Q Doctor; Lincus; Ask NHS; FootFall; and Visiba Care.

These companies were selected from 33 trusted NHS suppliers and will provide online consultation services to selected CCGs across the country. A letter from NHS England to general practice sent on 27 March highlighted support available for GP practices to establish a remote total triage model using online consultations. A blueprint guide was contained in a separate accompanying document.

NHS England said any commissioners who do not have a contract for an online consultation system that enables total triage can now immediately call one off. The letter asked commissioners to contact their regional NHS England and NHS Improvement teams to take this forward, and to ensure a solution is reached by 3 April 2020 at the latest.

Where video consultation tools are not already in place in time for the Coronavirus outbreak, NHS X said that GPs could use Skype, WhatsApp and Facetime.

This advice follows recent guidance from the Government unit, which approved the use of commercial communication apps not usually recommended for NHS use "where the benefit outweighs the risk". The guidance said: "The health and social care system is going to face significant pressures due to the Covid-19 outbreak. In the current circumstances, it could be more harmful not to share health and care information than to share it".

NHS X is encouraging GPs to use video conferencing to carry out consultations with patients and service users as it says this could go some way towards reducing the spread of Coronavirus.