Patients could soon be making appointments with their GP by phoning NHS Direct, documents have revealed.
Talks have been held with nine GP consortia so far, according to board papers from 31 January.
GPs in Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, London, the North West, North East and South West have all been involved in discussions – with more planned.
So far, 52 GP consortia have formed into "pathfinders" as part of the government's overhaul of the NHS.
GP consortia will handle some £80bn of the NHS budget and commission services for patients.
The board papers for NHS Direct say: "With the changes taking place to the commissioning landscape it is clear that relationships with GP commissioning consortia are the key to the future of NHS Direct's services."
There is a need to "develop stronger and more constructive relationships" with consortia, and meetings held so far have been "fairly positive", the board papers say.
Potential projects could include testing the new 111 telephone number for non-urgent services "to trialling in hours triage and booking systems".
NHS Direct is also holding an event "to explore potential future commissioning arrangements for urgent care services".
NHS Direct is already booking GP out-of-hour appointments as part of West Yorkshire Urgent Care Service and through 111 services in East Midlands and Luton.
Following the success of meetings so far, others are being set up with commissioners in the West Midlands and South West.
Copyright © Press Association 2011
What do you think to this idea? Your comments (terms and conditions apply):
"This was tried in banking where arguably the need to get through is not as critical. It did not work there and has since been reversed. For pity's sake learn lessons and look to make constructive, workable improvements with the cooperation of the users (patients) and the experts (GP staff). I challenge anyone thinking this might work to go down to your local surgery and listen to incoming calls for a morning – see what the receptionists really do!" – Practice Manager, North West
"Northamptonshire is not involved" – Justin Pearce, Rushden
"One of the most important aspects of general practice is the personal service that a reception team can offer. NHS Direct may be offering this booking service now but what happens when another provider can do it more cheaply and the calls are routed out of the country? Giving patients access to book their own appointments online is a far better arrangement. Those who can't/won't do that then have the opportunity to get through on the phone more easily. Giving patients access to their records online is also freeing up the receptionists' time for other patients. Why go to all the expense of a service that patients won't like when there are alternatives in the practice at little or no cost?" – Name and address withheld
"My audit of show 70% of patients accessing GPs, OOH & visiting A&E could have managed their illness on their own. The cost of making a phone call will deter time wasters but this will make it difficult for people who are poor and vulnerable. The ethos of medical profession is to help fellow human who suffer pain and discomfort. Unfortunately this system will not allow doctors to do what they promise to offer "A Service To Humanity" – Dr Sri, London
"No – definitely not; we surely don't want a Call Centre in primary care. I can't see patients wanting this. This is the start of the break-up of the NHS! The next stage to this will be an appt allocated with any one of a number of GP surgeries in your area, no more personal care then. And all this assumes you can get through; its difficult enough in some practices without making it nationwide" – Jo, Kent
"What if you don't have a telephone? Is this supposed to save money by reducing the number of receptionists? Receptionists do a lot more than take calls for appointments so not sure about reducing numbers. Seems like people trying too hard to come up with something new rather than improving what exists" – Dean Thompson, London
"Strong reservations – the function of the receptionist is more than booking appts. Their local knowledge cannot just be replaced by a tick sheet of questions for each patient. What happens about changes to rotas at short notice – dealt with two this week because of family crisis. If appts are inappropriately booked who sorts out the flak for that?" – Name and address withheld