How our GPIT team supported Primary Care transformation

Recognising the dedication and skill of NHS staff and the support of a nation.

The NHS celebrated its 72nd birthday on 5th July and used the anniversary as an opportunity to recognised and thank both the dedication and skill of its staff and the support of the nation.

While front line staff have been busy delivering exceptional care, behind the scenes there have been countless other teams also working tirelessly to provide support during the pandemic.

One such team is General Practice Information Technology (GPIT), supporting Primary Care transformation within Surrey Heartlands.

General Practice across Surrey Heartlands has delivered unprecedented levels of transformation and innovation since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. All GP practices had to remove pre-booked face-to-face appointments and implement a remote system overnight to reduce all unnecessary contact with patients.

To help support that process, the NHS Surrey Heartlands CCG’s GPIT team focused its efforts on quickly sourcing and rolling out IT equipment and digital systems to help practices implement these changes.

The new equipment included:

  • Video Monitors – More than 600 video-enabled monitors have been installed across all practices for video consultations and online consulting

  • Laptops – Over 1000 laptops were distributed to Surrey Heartlands practices, which means there is now one laptop per 1,100 patients, helping to support different ways of working

  • Headsets/Webcams – over 400 headsets have already gone out and an additional 400 headsets and 500 webcams are currently being distributed to practices for video consulting

To support the switch to remote consultations via online consulting, video and phone, the team also helped with:

  • Setting up ‘hot sites’ – to help general practice support patients with COVID-19 symptoms in a safe environment away from non-symptomatic patients, the GPIT team worked closely with GP surgeries and PCNs to equip these ‘hot sites’ with the necessary IT and phone systems

  • Remote working tool – for practice staff who were working from home due to shielding or childcare issues, to enable them to support the in-practice staff

  • Online consulting – a rapid roll out of new GP websites across Surrey Heartlands meant that patients were able to get easier access to their GP. Now over 90% of GP practices across Surrey Heartlands provide a ‘digital front door’ to their practice, meaning patients don’t have to wait on the phone to make a request. There are now over 24,000 requests being submitted every week to the GP practices across Surrey Heartlands

  • Video consulting – as face to face consultations were dramatically reduced for a period of time, video consulting was launched as part of the COVID response. This gives GPs another remote consulting option to support patients

  • Switching on 111 direct booking – Work was undertaken by the GPIT team to connect practices to the COVID-19 111 service. This allowed the 111 COVID-19 service to advise practices of the patients which needed follow up by their GP within their clinical system

  • Training support – training resources and guidance were developed to support the changes, supplemented by twice weekly webinars to help practices to implement the rapid changes

The team’s work has meant that patients can now access their GP services using their smartphone, tablet or computer, offering a quick, convenient and secure alternative to visiting their GP practice or surgery, and meaning they can ask for help from the practice, wherever they are, as long as they can access the internet.

Contacting the practice online also saves time, because there’s no need to travel to the surgery and wait for an appointment. Similarly, for people who find it difficult talking things over face-to-face, an online consultation can be easier.

Local patients have praised the new way of working:

"Much better service than usual because my GP practice is finally using computers!”

“Thankfully the NHS has FINALLY discovered the 21st century!!! No more unnecessary trips to hospitals and GP surgeries for hour long waits and 10 minute consultations. Please make this a permanent change.”

Dr Pramit Patel, Surrey Heartlands Primary Care Network Clinical Director said: “The GPIT team worked tirelessly around the clock to get our Primary Care digital front door and infrastructure in place. The work has been extremely challenging but they’ve risen to this challenge, delivered some excellent and innovative solutions and done an exceptional job.”

Added James Bywell, GPIT Operations Manager: “GP practices were faced with having to make immediate changes at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the GPIT team were asked to step in and implement new digital platforms and source new equipment to enable GPs to implement new ways of working. It’s been an incredibly busy time but also very rewarding to have supported this huge change.”