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NHS Choose and Book appointment system will be replaced

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g3313 (Published 14 May 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3313
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. 1BMJ

The national electronic appointment booking service Choose and Book will be replaced by a new system later this year as part of a ministerial push to make all referrals electronic by 2018.

Introduced by the Labour government in 2004, Choose and Book allows general practitioners (GPs) to offer their patients a choice of place, date, and time for their first outpatient appointment.

But usage has barely exceeded 50%,1 and NHS England has opted not to renew the contract and to implement instead a new NHS e-Referral Service by the end of 2014.

In a statement released this week NHS England said that feedback from a consultation on the plans2 had helped it to design a system that “is simpler to use, adopts the latest technology and provides an improved service for users and better experience for patients, with a view to driving up utilisation.”

The new service will use new technologies including mobile apps and will introduce functionality for patients to choose for themselves, including booking follow-up appointments.

NHS England said that the move to a “more efficient service” would allow it to meet its objective to make the NHS paperless by 2018.

But it refused to disclose how much the new service would cost, or whether new contractual levers would be implemented to make it compulsory for GPs to use it—as the former NHS chief executive, David Nicholson, had suggested.

Addressing the Commons Public Accounts Committee in February this year,3 Nicholson said, “I think we are getting to the point . . . where we want to get a system where we can make it mandatory as we go forward.

“The question we have to ask, and to get as wide a support for it as we can, is what incentive or penalty system do we need to put in place to ensure that it works?”

In a statement, Beverley Bryant, director of strategic systems and technology for NHS England, did not address this issue directly but said, “We know that Choose and Book has worked for some and not for others and a combination of electronic and paper referrals is still being used in some areas.

“What we have been very clear on is the need to understand what referring clinicians and receiving organisations want from the new system. Managing a mixed economy of paper and electronic referrals is onerous for hospitals and the lack of total slot availability makes it difficult for referring GPs to move away from paper.”

Bryant added, “When Choose and Book was designed back in 2003 agile, open technologies were not readily available. A major objective of the new NHS e-Referral system will be to introduce functionality for patients as well as clinicians to facilitate choice and to make the whole booking experience more user-friendly.”

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3313

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