ALMOST 200,000 online submissions were made to GPs in the Black Country and West Birmingham earlier this year, figures show.

GPs across the country have been working to install online systems for patients to book appointments, see their doctor and access medical records.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the use of these systems increased dramatically as practices sought to limit the transmission of the disease.

For the first time, figures on how often these systems are being used have been released.

Data from NHS England shows 175 GP surgeries in the former NHS Black Country and West Birmingham CCG area received 196,344 online submissions between April and September.

This was equivalent to 32,724 every month.

Of these, 139,293 were clinical in nature – an enquiry relating to a medical problem, for instance – while 55,571 were administrative – such as requesting a fit note or regular prescription.

The NHS cautions that it does not yet have comprehensive figures on how many of the 1.3 million registered patients in the Black Country and West Birmingham have used or have signed up to online GP systems.

They also warn not all GP surgeries are yet able to submit data on online submissions.

Professor Kamila Hawthorne, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said there was no "one-size-fits all" solution to using online platforms.

"Many practices find online triage systems an efficient way of managing demand and ensuring patients receive the most appropriate care for their health needs in a timely way.

"Other practices have reported these systems don’t work as well for them, actually increasing demand, particularly at certain times of the week such as Monday mornings."

Professor Hawthorne cautioned technological improvements "can only go so far" in addressing patient needs.

"We still desperately need to see substantial funding commitments to address the pressures general practice is currently facing," she added.

Across England, 2.4 million submissions were in September alone – 1.6 million of them clinical enquiries.

The NHS says nearly 5,000 GP surgeries are using online systems, around three-quarters of all GP surgeries across the country.

An NHS spokesperson said: "Every GP practice must provide patients with the option to contact them via telephone, online or in-person."

The continued: "The NHS published a plan earlier this year to recover access to GP services, which includes upgrading telephone systems and improving online access tools to make it easier for people to contact their general practice."

They added that more than 34,000 more staff had joined GP practices since 2019.