The NHS will be launching its own mobile app later this year and patients will be able to use it to book appointments with their GP, the government has announced.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has hailed the app as the ‘death knell of the 8am scramble for GP appointments’.
The NHS app will allow people to to book appointments, look at their records, order repeat prescriptions and access 111 online for urgent medical queries.
Patients will also be able to set out their end of life care and organ donation preferences through the app.
Launching the app, Mr Hunt said: ‘The NHS app is a world first which will put patients firmly in the driving seat and revolutionise the way we access health services.
‘I want this innovation to mark the death knell of the 8am scramble for GP appointments that infuriates so many patients.
‘Technology has transformed everyday life when it comes to banking, travel and shopping.
‘Health matters much more to all of us, and the prize of that same digital revolution in healthcare isn’t just convenience but lives improved, extended and saved.’
Testing of the new app, which will be available for patients in England, begins in September and it is expected to be ready to download from the App Store or Google Play in December.
The NHS app has been announced the same week as the healthcare service celebrates its 70th birthday.
Sarah Wilkinson, chief executive of NHS Digital, said: ‘We are working hard to deliver the Secretary of State’s vision for an NHS app which provides much easier access for individuals to key NHS services.
‘I have no doubt that people will hugely welcome the ability to access self-help diagnostic tools, more easily book GP appointments, view test results and order repeat prescriptions, and tell us about their personal preferences with respect to organ donation, use of their data and other aspects of their care.
‘We all know that demand for precious NHS services is escalating, and for a large portion of the population digital channels are a preferred means of access to data and services, so this is an opportunity to provide the easier access people want and relieve some burden from frontline providers.’
Matthew Swindells, NHS England national director of operations and information, said the app would allow patients to take charge of their own healthcare.
He added: ‘The new app will put the NHS into the pocket of everyone in England, but it is just one step on the journey, we are also developing an NHS Apps Library and putting free NHS Wi-Fi in GP surgeries and hospitals.’
However the British Medical Association (BMA) has said that while it has potential, the government must address the ‘workforce crisis’ within general practice and that it ‘cannot create appointments out of nowhere’.
At present there are not enough GPs to meet rising demand, the BMA said.
Dr Richard Vautrey, chairman of the BMA’s GP committee, said: ‘GPs understand and share the public’s frustration at not always being able to get an appointment, and this app has the potential to offer patients who are comfortable using this type of technology another option to contact their practice.
‘In using this it is important to ensure patient confidentiality is protected and develop systems that enable patients are directed to the right course of action or appointment for their condition.
‘If developed and tested appropriately, it could also be helpful for those ordering repeat prescriptions or receiving test results.
‘However, it cannot create appointments out of nowhere. One of the fundamental problems facing general practice is that there are not enough GPs to meet rising demand, meaning patients wait longer and doctors face unmanageable workloads.
‘So, while innovation such as this app has potential, the Government’s priority must be to address the workforce crisis.’