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Independents' Day

New health secretary says he is a patient of Babylon's NHS GP app

Newly-appointed health secretary Matt Hancock has said he is a patient of GP at Hand, the controversial NHS GP app provided by private company Babylon.

Babylon uses the out-of-area registration scheme to sign up NHS patients to its digital service via a host GMS practice based in Fulham, southwest London.

But GPs have called on NHS England to put a stop to the app, which they say ‘cherry picks’ fit, young and healthy patients and financially destabilises traditional GP practices.

The Mail reports that Mr Hancock, who was previously digital, culture, media and sport secretary, finds the GP at Hand service to be ‘brilliant’.

Speaking at an event a month ago, the health secretary-to-be said: ‘I’ve signed up for Babylon Health so I no longer have a physical GP.

‘My GP is through the NHS on Babylon Health – it’s brilliant.’

A spokesperson for Mr Hancock confirmed that he was, in fact, referring to the GP at Hand app.

Since its launch last November, GP at Hand patients are promised an online GP consultation within hours, and a next-day face-to-face appointment if required at a number of London hubs. To date, some 30,000 patients have joined.

But GP leaders including the the BMA, Londonwide LMCs and the RCGP have raised concerns about the app’s demographic, and GPs in Doctors in Unite said it is ‘threatening general practice across the UK’.

Dr David Wrigley, a GP in Lancashire and chair of Doctors in Unite, said: ‘We are very concerned about the model of care that GP at Hand uses and how it cherry picks the young and tech savvy patients.

'Income is lost from practices they leave - income needed for the NHS risk pool that is essential to the survival of every surgery in the country. We urge Mr Hancock to look at the deeper issues affecting general practice on this topic and I’d be happy to meet him to explain our significant concerns.' 

Tower Hamlets LMC chair Dr Jackie Applebee said: 'It is a pity that the new health secretary has not acquainted himself with the fact that widespread concern has been expressed by GPs with regard to the model of GP at Hand.

'We are not Luddites and embrace innovation when it is evidence based. NHS general practice has been at the forefront of developing technology in the health service.

'However, GP at Hand introduces a new version of Tudor-Hart's inverse care law in that it improves access for the internet savvy at the expense of those less technically literate, the latter tending to be the older and sicker.'

She added: 'I hope that this does not signal his general approach, as I hope that we will be able to work with him to the benefit of all who use the NHS not just one cohort.'

Babylon also recently sparked GP criticism when it claimed its app is able to provide clinical advice to patients that is ‘on par’ with doctors.

GP at Hand does not block anybody from using the service, but says people who are frail or elderly, pregnant or have severe mental health issues may be advised they are better serviced by a local practice and, according to Babylon, this is on advice from NHS England.

Last month, NHS England denied it was directly involved in the app, aside from working with NHS Hammersmith and Fulham CCG on its £250,000 independent evaluation.

It has since launched a consultation into GP contract funding changes aimed at enabling 'full adoption' of 'digital' primary care models, which it said would increase 'fairness' by reducing the payment to practices for out-of-area patients and amending London weighting and rurality index payments.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard has said the NHS has ‘a lot to learn’ from Babylon’s ‘phenomenal’ GP at Hand app, which she said was 'disrupting' general practice.

A Babylon spokesperson declined to comment.

Commenting on the appointment of the previously tech-focused new health secretary yesterday, Londonwide LMCs chief executive Dr Michelle Drage said she hoped that Mr Hancock was 'open to supporting what works' and  that 'together we can help practices benefit from what is new'.

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  • phone - smartphone - app - mobile - online

Readers' comments (28)

  • Vinci Ho

    Ha ha ha
    A new name come on my head

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  • Vinci Ho

    Leave it to you whether you want to censor this name

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  • Vinci Ho

    ‘Alex J. Murphy/Robocop: Dead or alive, you're coming with me!‘’
    Remember this?

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  • So given yesterdays revelation regarding £28k and this little golden nugget isn't this a possible COI.

    More likely as Last Man Standing said though COI and Honour are not in certain people's vocabulary.

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  • End of the line?

    Speaking at an event a month ago, the health secretary-to-be said: ‘I’ve signed up for Babylon Health so I no longer have a physical GP.

    oh dear another one who doesn't have a clue

    I must inform you that it is a "physical doctor" on the other side of the app
    Youv'e not rendered Gp's obsolete just yet

    Hopefully someone will appreciate the benefits of continuity from seeing a doctor who know you well
    Too many cooks spoil the broth
    (No one takes overall responsibility )

    Jeremy was quick to appoint physical doctors as named responsible gp's
    he had a firm ethos of ensuring someone to scapegoat whilst he scuttled the ship

    New health secretary you are going to need physical scapegoats
    maybe there is an app for that ????

    Han(d on)cock

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  • End of the line?

    Petty to get involved with name calling but
    Were better than that..
    c(h)unt to c(h)ock
    life has a good sense of humour

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  • Good grief

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  • Sweden fund primary care based on the health risk of individuals.
    This would solve the Babylon issue at a stroke.

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  • Idiot.
    Who needs a physical GP?

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