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Digital upskilling programme for NHS primary care clinicians and health professionals proves success

A successful pilot was undertaken in Staffordshire in 2018 funded by NHS England as part of their delivery of the GPN10 Point Plan, where local general practice nurses (GPNs) participated in a series of action learning sets (ALS) in order to adopt and embed technology enabled care (TEC) / digital tools within their practices and develop as digital GPN champions.

The programme of work was further commissioned across additional regions of England in 2018/19, and again in 2019/20 and saw primary care clinicians (including GPs, practice nurses and other health professionals) take part in a series of Action Learning Sets to develop their confidence and capability in using digital tools to benefit patients and encourage better management of long-term conditions.

The action learning sets were designed to demonstrate how technology enabled care and digital tools, such as utilising video calls for consultations, using social media to signpost people to safe and accurate health and lifestyle information, and using apps to encourage self-management of conditions could be adopted and embedded within general practices to improve patient care and experience.

Since the programme began, the team have worked with over 350 clinicians in primary care settings across the UK, to encourage usage of digital tools to better connect frontline healthcare workers to their patients, especially during the current Covid-19 pandemic.

In September 2020, all clinicians who took part in the digital upskilling programmes were invited to complete a digital survey, to ascertain if the introduction of digital tools and technology enabled care tools had encouraged the clinician participants and their colleagues to embrace digital delivery of care more effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of the 200+ responses received, 72% confirmed that they had used video consultation in August/September 2020 to hold patient consultations, with 95% of respondents reporting that other clinicians in their practice had used video-consultation during the same period, demonstrating that the learnt digital transformation had been widely adopted.

88% of clinicians also confirmed that clinician to patient texting, and the sharing of population health messages/campaigns and practice information on social media was being utilised. Thus, to ensure that patients still felt connected to their local GPs and surgeries, despite the significant drop in face to face appointments being carried out.

The results of the survey have been captured in an article published on BJGP Life on the 29th October 2020:

Chambers R, Hatfield R, Shams L. GP teams need the confidence, competence and capability to provide video-consultations. BJGP Life.

The article reiterates that primary care clinicians need the skills and support, not just the ‘kit’ to make digital primary care transformation happen in practice at scale and demonstrates that the majority of the action learning set participants are now providing video-consultations in their practices (themselves/practice teams) (between July- September 2020), compared to the national average of just 0.5% of general practice consultations in England being video consultations in September 2020 (

Rachel Hatfield, National Programme Manager for the GNP and Clinician Action Learning Sets and Special Projects Manager for Midlands and Lancashire Commissioning Support Unit commented; “These fantastic results demonstrate that upskilling general practice clinicians encourages the implementation of technology enabled care/digital tools as usual service”.

Dr Ruth Chambers, Clinical Lead for the programme highlighted that “the digital upskilling course developed clinician’s confidence and capability which allowed them to easily and successfully adapt to the new ways of working required as a result of the current pandemic”.

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