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18 July 2017, 06:14
A goal for the majority of GP practices to offer online repeat prescriptions and appointment booking is likely to be missed, new figures suggest.
Research by the think tank Reform Scotland shows just four health boards have so far met the standard of at least 90% of surgeries offering the services by the end of 2017.
Only a quarter of NHS Highland practices offer online appointments booking and/or repeat prescribing, with the proportion 45% in Ayrshire and Arran and 50% in Shetland.
The figures, obtained from the Scottish Government through freedom of information legislation, are despite the 90% benchmark set out in the Government's eHealth Strategy.
Reform Scotland highlighted that while most patients positively rate their care and treatment at GP surgeries, four of the five most negatively answered questions on GPs in the 2015/16 Health and Care Experience Survey related to access issues.
As the majority of GP surgeries operate as private sector contractors to the NHS, it is up to each individual practice whether or not they introduce online services.
The think tank has called for NHS boards to allow new GP surgeries to open up alongside existing practices to stimulate competition and give patients more choice.
"There is no reason for the state to protect GP practices, which are private businesses, from competition and this would increase choice and diversity as well as making practices more responsive to the needs of patients,'' it said.
Reform Scotland also wants improvements to NHS Scotland's Inform website to provide more detailed online information.
Research director Alison Payne said: "The Scottish Government and the Royal College of General Practitioners have recognised the benefit of offering more services, such as repeat prescriptions and booking appointments, online. Yet it is clear from these figures that too few people can benefit from these services.
"Ever since the NHS was created, it has always been the case that the majority of GPs were private contractors, just like opticians. If we can choose where to get our eyes tested then we should be able to apply the same flexibility to choose our doctor.
"There are significant differences in digital access arrangements across Scotland's GP practices - differences where the practice size or location are irrelevant.
"However, despite these differences, patients have little choice over who and where their GP is. By giving people greater choice over their GP surgery this will give them much greater influence over the way services are developed.''
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We are committed to investing an additional £500 million a year by 2021/22 to transform primary care. That transformation will be supported by the latest technology, including offering more services online.
"Investing in new systems means GPs will be able to access and record medical information more quickly, giving them more time to spend with patients during consultations.''