Patients promised online GP booking by 2015

Computer user Ministers want to see the use of digital technologies become universal across the health service

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Patients in England will be able to book GP appointments and get test results online within three years, ministers are promising.

The moves are part of an Information Strategy designed to "take the hassle out of the health service".

Online communications between patients and their doctors is already happening in some places.

But the strategy sets out plans to ensure there is universal adoption of digital technologies.

The Department of Health is also encouraging the NHS and private companies to develop new health apps for smart phones and tablet computers.

'Making life easier'

Repeat prescriptions will also be available from 2015 too.

The deadline mirrors the goal of giving patients access to electronic medical records - something that has already been announced.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "Our NHS reforms are about making life easier for patients.

"By allowing people to access the NHS online, we will put an end to the 8am rush to phone your GP to try and book an appointment.

"Reforms like this will take the hassle out of the health service."

Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the British Medical Association's GPs Committee, said: "There are GP surgeries which have been pioneering online booking and repeat prescriptions for a while now so we would support the wider implementation of this, as long as it doesn't impact on patients without IT access who can continue to book appointments in the usual way.

"However, we would caution against the potential use of email for consultations, because compared to a telephone or face-to-face consultation it is difficult for GPs to assess someone quickly and safely this way.

"When it comes to patients being able to view their records online, we believe patients should have access to their health records but we'd want to be satisfied that their records would remain secure before this was implemented - for example it would be important to be certain that it couldn't be an abusive partner or a parent trying to access their teenager's records. All patients need to be confident that their records are held safely otherwise they may not feel comfortable talking to their GP about confidential issues."

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