Patients in rural areas such as west Cornwall will see a "major benefit" from an increased use of digital technology in the NHS, according to the area's MP.

Derek Thomas was speaking following the publication of the NHS Long-Term Plan this lunchtime, which sets out developments to the health service over the next ten years.

It includes patients being able to opt for online or video consultations with their GP as a first port of call.

Patients will be allowed to switch from their existing GP to a “digital first” provider, with all patients in England having access to a “digital first primary care offer” - such as the remote consultations - by 2022-23.

West Cornwall MP Mr Thomas said it was encouraging that NHS England plans to place a much greater emphasis on the use of digital and other technologies.

“Twelve months ago I hosted a conference on behalf of the NHS Confederation, which attracted then Health Minister Philip Dunne as well as NHS trust chief executives and chairs, and which argued that the full use of digital technology offers the way forward for patients,” he said.

“Digital innovation enables access to up-to-date accurate health records, improves management of long-term conditions and early diagnosis and also enables remote access to the best consultants, a major benefit for patients who live in rural areas like West Cornwall.”

Mr Thomas, who chairs the all party parliamentary group on vascular and venous disease and has led a debate in Westminster on what can be done to accelerate access to new diabetes technologies, also welcomed the publication of the report overall.

Launched by Prime Minister Theresa May and NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens today, it has been claimed the ten-year plan could save up to 500,000 lives by focusing on prevention first.

GPs, mental health and community care will get the biggest funding increases – amounting to a third of the extra £20 billion the NHS has been promised by 2023 through annual budget percentage increases - as part of an aim to curb the current reliance on hospital services.

The plan looks at increasing the use of cutting edge scans and technology - including even artificial intelligence - to provide stroke care and offer earlier detection and better treatment of respiratory conditions.

The plan also recognises that ambulance services are at the heart of the urgent and emergency care system, and will implement recommendations from a recent report into operational productivity and performance in ambulance trusts to make sure the best service is given.

The plan will also help skilled paramedics to treat patients at home or in a more appropriate setting outside of hospital.

“The main thrust of the plan is that prevention is better than cure – something I think we can all agree with,” said Mr Thomas.

“In west Cornwall, a great deal of excellent work has already been carried out by doctors and health professionals to ensure that health services are integrated, helping people get the appropriate care and treatment they need as close to home as possible.

“The extra funding promised for GPs and community care will just accelerate and benefit this process and I am particularly pleased that NHS England is placing a high priority on improving the ambulance service as there is nothing more frustrating than having ambulance staff being stuck outside an A&E department waiting to hand over a patient when they could be out helping other people in the community.”

Other notable points in the Long-Term Plan include:

  • Specific waiting time targets being introduced for emergency mental health services by 2020
  • More doctors being encourage to train in general medicine rather than specific areas, to allow them to care for patients with more than one long-term condition
  • The whole of England is to be covered by integrated care systems in just over two years
  • The 30 worst financially performing NHS trust to be part of a new "accelerated turnaround process" to improve the service's finances faster