The government has announced £240m of funding for GP practices, aiming to help patients to get appointments more quickly.
The cash will be given to surgeries to “embrace the latest technology”, replacing old phone systems and creating online tools to “ensure patients get the care they need as soon as possible”.
As part of what ministers are calling “an overhaul of primary care”, they said patients would be told on the day how their request would be managed.
If urgent, they pledged people would be seen on the same day, and if not, appointments should be offered within two weeks, or patients will be referred to NHS 111 or a local pharmacy.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the moves would “bring an end to the 8am scramble for appointments”.
But his Labour shadow, Wes Streeting, called it a “shallow offer [that] shows Rishi Sunak is totally out of touch with the issues patients face”.
The Conservatives have long promised to introduce new technology into GP surgeries, with Mr Barclay touting the idea last summer.
Click to subscribe to the Sophy Ridge on Sunday podcast
His successor in Liz Truss’s short-lived administration, Therese Coffey, also made the pledge, along with the two-week commitment – though she fell short of putting an official target on the measure.
Now back in the role, Mr Barclay promised to move ahead with rolling out digital telephony – meaning patients will be put in a queue, given a call-back option or directed to the right service, rather than hearing an engaged tone.
Some surgeries already offer this service, but health minister Neil O’Brien said there was evidence that it made it “much easier for people to get through to their general practice team”.
The Department of Health also said receptionist roles would be expanded to become “care navigators”, training 6,500 to “gather information, to make sure patients are directed to the most suitable healthcare professional, and to simplify and streamline the process”.
Mr Barclay said: “I want to make sure people receive the right support when they contact their general practice and bring an end to the 8am scramble for appointments.
“To do this we are improving technology and reducing bureaucracy, increasing staffing and changing the way primary care services are provided, which are all helping to deliver on the government’s promise to cut waiting lists.”
Crucial strike meeting as health secretary ‘optimistic’ deal will be reached
Couple fear nurses’ strike could be a ‘matter of life and death’
Why are junior doctors striking
But Mr Streeting placed the blame of appointment difficulties at the door of the government, claiming the Conservatives had cut 2,000 GPs so “better hold music isn’t going to change that”.
The shadow health secretary said: “Nothing in this announcement will train more doctors, allow patients to choose a face-to-face appointment, or bring back the family doctor so patients see the same GP each time.
“This shallow offer shows Rishi Sunak is totally out of touch with the issues patients face, and underlines why he can’t offer the change people are crying out for.”
He said Labour would train 7,500 more doctors a year, paid for by abolishing the non-dom tax status, and enable patients to “easily book appointments to see the doctor they want, in the manner they choose”.