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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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Readers' comments (28)

  • The fact this man is stupid enough to publicly admit this, shows he has no idea what the consequences of his actions mean on NHS GPs opinion of him.

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  • true, but why should he care. steamroller away

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  • "but why should he care"

    If the health secretary doesn't care about the NHS V.S private sector I'm sure he won't mind if I leave this publicly funded health service then!

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  • As Julian Clary once said “too many (Han) cocks spoil the breath”

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  • Kadiyali Srivatsa

    I must have been the first doctor who thought of using the internet because I published a website called gotosurgery.com. This was before Amazon, Google and Facebook were born. After identifying the problem, I have tested the various hypothesis, collected data and created Maya (Medical Advice You Access), published books and created Dr Maya & Maya Dr to help patients and healthcare providers. If AI was the best option, do you think I would have hesitated to create Dr Maya Doll that could have replaced GPs? NO, because I believe it is our duty to offer basic healthcare to every human on earth FREE OF COST. I know there is no way we can replace family doctors using Apps or AI and so I will do all that I can to stop this unethical medical practice and defend my ethics and protect the fellow human.
    This health minister must be crazy if he thinks we can manage NHS using an app because NOTHING in healthcare is 100%. Offering advice and treatment based on the result of our audit is not safe and must be discouraged because the threat of superbugs is real.
    I have now worked as a locum in OOH and Emergency care and know doctors are forced to follow protocols and flowchart based on statistics and so inflicting pain and suffering to thousands of patients accessing these centres assuming they are the next best to GPs.

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  • GP At Hand is basically 111 but with a doctor at the end of the phone. The video part is just a gimmick, really - I don't think it adds much to the assessment, apart from a general sense of what the patient looks like.
    The financial model makes no sense. I bet they are haemorrhaging money raised from venture capitalists by running this in London.
    I can see they are working and looking to develop business in third world countries and environments: it makes more sense to use apps like this where human life is cheap and proper medicine expensive, and there isn't a culture of litigation.

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  • AlanAlmond

    Hunt put the knife in, this guy is going to be the undertaker

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  • Totally agree with Jackie's views in article

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