Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Digital Care

The NHS App: opening the NHS’s new digital “front door” to the private sector

BMJ 2019; 367 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l6210 (Published 29 October 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;367:l6210
  1. Jo Best, freelance writer
  1. London, UK
  1. jo.best{at}journalist.com

Almost all general practices in England and Wales are now connected, but, with further functionality likely to be left to third parties, Jo Best asks whether the app can deliver on its vision to be a one stop shop for patients

A national NHS mobile app was announced last year as a new way for patients to access all NHS services.1 Jeremy Hunt, then health secretary, described it as “a world first which will put patients firmly in the driving seat and revolutionise the way we access health services.”

As well as allowing patients to register their preferences on key health matters such as organ donation and end-of-life care, the app was intended to stop what Hunt described as the “8 am scramble for GP appointments that infuriates so many patients,” by allowing them to book appointments electronically.

The NHS long term plan,2 released in January, envisioned “a digital NHS ‘front door’” to health services: an app offering advice, checking patients’ symptoms, and putting them in contact with the right healthcare professionals. However, the scope of the app may have been scaled back since then, potentially leaving private sector companies such as Babylon to expand its functionality.

Rolling out the app

The app missed the deadline for all practices to be connected to it by July, but not by much: 95% of them had rolled it out by the start of that month.3 Users who download the app now have access to a range of functionality. All can check their symptoms, contact NHS 111 online, register as an organ donor, and set their preferences on taking part in research. Users whose GP surgery has connected to the app can also book and manage appointments with it, order repeat prescriptions, and view their medical record.4 The app was trialled in late …

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