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Babylon GP at Hand given green light to expand NHS services to Birmingham

Babylon GP at Hand has been given the green light to expand to the UK's second-largest city, the digital company has confirmed.

During an NHS Hammersmith and Fulham CCG meeting yesterday, it was announced the digital-first GP service will be allowed to expand its NHS offering to patients in Birmingham, after NHS England decided to lift its previous block.

While Babylon welcomed the news, hinting at future expansions 'across the country', GP leaders called the decision 'wholly inappropriate' as the ongoing independent evaluation of the service – expected next month – has yet to be published.

Babylon applied to launch a physical branch of its online services in Birmingham last year, but the plans were rejected by NHS Hammersmith and Fulham CCG – which referred the decision to NHS England – due to patient safety concerns relating to local infrastructure.

This came after NHS Birmingham and Solihull CCG wrote a letter to the London CCG, formally objecting to the move on the grounds of 'clinical safety'.

Despite this, Pulse revealed Babylon still started recruiting GPs for the Birmingham expansion.

BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey called the announcement disappointing, warning the disruption faced by London GPs due to the service will now be replicated elsewhere.

He said: 'We are incredibly disappointed with this decision, which is not only premature, but flies in the face of place-based care delivered by practices embedded in local communities, which the recent changes in the GP contract are committed to deliver.

'The independent evaluation into Babylon GP at Hand is yet to publish its findings, so it is wholly inappropriate to allow this service’s expansion with no assurances over its safety and effectiveness.

'The well-documented problems that Babylon GP at Hand patients have experienced in London, as well as the disruption it has caused to local funding arrangements, will likely only be replicated in new cities if the service is rolled out there.'

Speaking to Pulse, a Babylon spokesperson said: 'There was an NHS Hammersmith and Fulham CCG primary care committee meeting yesterday, where NHS England lifted the block on the expansion to Birmingham.'

They continued: 'We welcome the decision to allow the expansion of Babylon GP at Hand to people living and working in Birmingham. The NHS long-term plan and GP contract framework set the vision for digital-first primary care and we look forward to making this a reality, in Birmingham and across the country.

'We will continue to work closely with NHS commissioners, regulators and local providers on the safe and effective delivery of all our services.'

An NHS England spokesperson said: 'As set out in the long-term plan, the NHS will see an increasing use of digital technology and from 2021 every patient in England will have access to online and video consultation – if they choose it – and this practice is just one of the ways of providing that.'

NHS England said it will now work with NHS Hammersmith and Fulham and Birmingham and Solihull CCGs, national screening services, and Babylon GP at Hand to agree a start date.

Last month, Pulse revealed NHS Hammersmith and Fulham might not be able to ‘pay its bills’, due to finanicial pressures caused by tens of thousands of patients signing up to the digital-first NHS GP service.

The CCG then warned the costs associated with the service practice could ‘jeopardise’ other health and care services in the area if not resolved.

 Pulse has approached NHS Hammersmith and Fulham CCG for comment.

The rise of Babylon GP at Hand

Babylon joined up with a Hammersmith and Fulham GP practice and started offering online GP services as a replacement to regular GP practices across London in November 2017.

GP leaders expressed concerns about the impact of Babylon's entry to London, after it rapidly signed up tens of thousands of patients to it's GP at Hand app via the out-of-area registration scheme.

The service has also been criticised for ‘cherry picking’ patients, as it advised certain patients - including pregnant women and patients with learning difficulties - to ‘discuss’ whether it may be ‘appropriate’ to register with ‘a practice closer to home’. Although these restrictions have now been lifted.

Despite concerns, health secretary Matt Hancock said he is a patient of Babylon, and that the company is ‘taking the pressure off the NHS’.

An independent evaluation of the service is currently being conducted by Ipsos Mori, while the CQC is assessing whether the app has destabilised other GP practices, and its impact on the overall quality of care.

Meanwhile, GPs called on the BMA to abolish the out-of-area registration clause in the GMS contract - which allows patients to register with practices outside of the traditional GP boundaries - at the England LMC conference.

Readers' comments (14)

  • Dear All,
    What an excellent display of evidence based healthcare, the day after the Which report, timing could not be better.
    Regards
    Paul C

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  • Vinci Ho

    No surprise really . As far as any evaluation of a service is concerned, no news is good news . The politics involved had already well set the service to go omnipresent. The money invested into the service needs financial returns . So one cannot expect this to go away , just like that . As soon as the first floodgate was open , war was declared in rest of us . For those who represent us , it is merely a matter of recognising a gladiator let loose by our common enemy.

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  • National Hopeless Service

    Brexit isn't the only reason to stock pile body bags

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  • Words fail me! So the independent review is still underway, the new GP contract commits to a review of the out of area registration scheme and Hammersmith and Fulham CCG profess that GP@Hand has caused them to have an £18 million short fall which they expect other London CCGs to pay, yet this inequitable, unproven service, which seriously threatens a new version of the inverse care law ie: Care is more accessible to the IT literate (usually younger and fitter) than those less so (usually older, less fit, poorer and for whom English is a second language)is allowed to let rip!! This is no way to run a comprehensive, universal health service. I hope Hammersmith and Fulham CCG don't try to go cap in hand to Birmingham when the secondary care bills start to roll in from there!!! Rhetorical question, but why do NHSE allow this......oh yes, I forgot, our esteemed SoS for Health and Social Care is a patient of GP@Hand and just for the record his ex boss, George Osbourne is Editor of the London Evening Standard which is running a project with Babylon promoting digital health care in London.......

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  • Dear All,
    Jackie has it.
    Regards
    Paul C

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  • @above
    I think Nye Bevan had it right too.
    They are lower than vermin.

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  • Vinci Ho

    I posted this before; I post this again :

    (1) ‘’A Babylon GP at hand spokesperson said: 'The needs of patients have to be put first which is why we have seen the list grow so quickly over the past year.’’
    Cunning .
    Cannot think of any word other than ‘populism’ . Manipulating populism disregarding the pre-existing deficiency of resources in general practice, is irresponsible, deceitful and despicable.
    (2) It remains Cherry Picking because one would know logically, those pregnant and elderly patients will always prefer to prefer a GP practice near home . Common sense .My argument is CCGs should pay these private providers a much less rate for registering these out of area patients. So , let them Peanut Picking , by all means .
    (3) The health secretary needs to declare conflict of interest by any standard , especially after he openly declared himself a patient of GP at Hand . This is indirectly, advertising a NHS GP practice? Somebody, please check if any legislation has been broken.

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  • Remember osbornes advice to Hancock. When trying to make a change ignore the noise and just do it. Looks like he's following it to the letter.

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  • It wouldn't matter if we got paid per consultation. different rates for telephone, video, face to face, home visit.

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  • Payment by activity should have been at firfront of new contract negotiations.. Rest all is bullshit . Let government pay us by activity then each gp will decide how hard or hardly they want to work. And that would have solved this problem easily.

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