A new GP service has been proposed to end the 8am “scramble” for an appointment.

The “rescue package” proposed by experts at  think-tank Policy Exchange will aim to improve access to GPs by creating a “first contact” service that would also work within the NHS app.

The aim would be to roll out the “smart” new NHS Gateway service across GP surgeries and NHS 111, utilising machine learning and artificial intelligence.

It is hopes providing a new way of booking appointments would lessen the need to book appointment by phone at 8am which the study says is the current system used for 86% of GP appointments.

How would the proposed NHS system work?

People would be asked about their symptoms and would be able to do things like order at-home blood tests and kits, such as for urinary tract infections, which account for up to 10 million GP appointments every year.

The report said NHS Gateway would also be a portal for NHS-approved health apps to manage mental health and other chronic illnesses such as musculoskeletal pain (which account for 30% of GP consultations).

Furthermore, patients would be able to manage t heir bookings and request “high-quality video consultations” with staff other than GPs, including community pharmacists.

In other recommendations, the report said that private health firms will “continue to have a central role in primary care” and “should be essential to primary care service provision”.

The GP contract should also be overhauled to “reduce bureaucracy and free up GPs to help the patients with the most complex needs”.

There are also proposals to “level up” the system with “a massive boost in high-quality video consultations in areas where there are not enough doctors”, and by using overseas doctors in videos after they have completed NHS training.

Current method of contacting GPs ‘isn’t sustainable’

Lead author Dr Sean Phillips said: “There have been growing pressures on general practice for years, but the current situation just isn’t sustainable for GPs or their patients.

“GPs are doing their best, but dissatisfaction is increasing among patients. We need to find ways to work smarter, rather than just demanding that stretched GPs work harder.

“By expanding high-quality digital healthcare, such as video consultation, we can ‘level up’ areas that have fewer GPs and enable GPs to conduct more appointments face to face – particularly those with complex needs.

“Optimising the use of the NHS app can help reduce missed GP appointments, which cost the NHS £216 million every year, through simple reminders, and signpost patients to the place their needs are best met.”

Earlier this week, NHS England announced changes to the GP contract to ensure patients can see a doctor on Saturdays and in the evenings.

GP appointments will be available until 8pm on weekdays and from 9am to 5pm on Saturdays, according to the new plans, which have attracted huge criticism from the British Medical Association (BMA) and others.