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GP practices must offer online appointment booking by 2015

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Plans to 'end the 8am rush' for general practice appointments by requiring surgeries to offer online booking have been welcomed by more than 60 per cent of practice nurses.

The DH outlined its latest NHS Information Strategy, last month, stating that all practices must offer online booking facilities by 2015. Patients should also be able to see their medical records online by this deadline, the department said.

An Independent Nurse poll of 58 practice nurses found 63 per cent were in favour of online booking, agreeing it had the potential to boost appropriate access to appointments. Just over a quarter said the change would not help, with 11 per cent unsure.

Issues raised included the risk that patients could book with the wrong clinician; the need to ensure enough time was allocated to more complex consultations; and a fear that general practices could become overloaded with unnecessary appointments.

Nurses also commented that it could place those without internet access to at an unfair disadvantage.

'Online appointments are fine for the computer literate, but we need to make sure there is a facility for the elderly, those who don't have computers, and those with disabilities,' said one nurse respondent. A practice nurse added: 'I think it's a good idea, but is open to abuse by the serial attender.'

Other online services outlined in the strategy, entitled The power of information, include making repeat prescriptions and test results available online, 'ending the wait for a letter in the post'.

Under the strategy, all patients will be able to give immediate feedback about any encounter they have with the health service.

'This will drive improvements in quality, as well as making services more responsive to the people using them,' the DH said.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley added: 'The internet has revolutionised how people shop, bank and travel, and for too long health and care services have not been part of that revolution.'

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland's minister for Health, Edwin Poots, has announced the roll out of a nationwide Electronic Care Record (ECR), following a successful pilot. The ECR, delivered by Orion Health, allows patient data to be shared across health sectors.

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