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'Uber-style' private GP appointment service primed for national rollout

A new private GP company offering ‘Uber’-style GP appointments is preparing to roll out the service across the whole of England after a successful pilot in two north London boroughs.

The Doctaly service doesn’t employ GPs itself, but is the first reported service to match NHS GPs to patients who are prepared to pay a fee to avoid the usual wait to see their GP.

The GPs will see patients in their own practice and in their spare time, the company says.

But GP leaders warned they are ‘very concerned’ about the service, which they said would destabilise general practice and undermine the NHS, and encourages ‘queue-jumping’ for patients who can afford it.

Doctaly has been running for the past month at 10 practices in the London boroughs of Barnet and Enfield, with around 50 GPs signed up to offer appointments at various times.

The service is not yet available as an app, with patients booking appointments through the Doctaly website.

But the company has been likened to Uber – an app that allows customers to book taxis – because it does not employ the GPs directly, instead providing them with the framework to offer the appointments and then taking a cut of the fee.

Doctaly told Pulse that having proved the concept could work – with both patients and GPs keen to sign up – the service is now being rolled out with the aim of reaching the rest of London by the end of this year and the whole country by 2018.

Company founder Ben Teichman insisted the service is not about queue jumping but ‘quite the opposite’.

He said: ‘Doctaly is essentially a hybrid service between the NHS and existing private practice making private appointments more affordable, thereby opening them up to a wider audience.

‘It is not about queue jumping. Quite the opposite in fact. It should help drive queues down in surgeries and also take traffic away from A&E. An A&E appointment can cost the NHS £150 and if access wasn’t an issue, many of these patients could have been successfully treated by a GP.’

He said that the service was a ‘lucrative and convenient alternative’ for part-time GPs, and even full-time GPs who may ’want to do a few appointments on their admin day if they’ve got time’.

But Dr Jackie Applebee, chair of Tower Hamlets LMC in east London and Doctors in Unite representative on the GPC, said the service was ‘very worrying’ and would ‘further destabilise general practice’.

Dr Applebee added: ‘This is not the answer to the crisis in general practice. I acknowledge that access is a problem, but the fault for this lies at the door of the Government who have disinvested in general practice for years so that we now have an unprecedented workforce crisis.

‘This sort of service is the slippery slope towards privatisation of the NHS. It introduces the principle of topping up NHS services with purchased services if one has the disposable income. If the more affluent begin to do this in significant numbers it is only a small step to an insurance-based health service.’

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘Patients want and deserve a properly funded NHS GP service, based on the registered list, so they can get appropriate timely access to their local GP and that practices have the resources and capacity to offer this.

‘While patients can access and pay for private GPs or consultants, the risk is a more fragmented service and patients having remote consultations with doctors they don’t know and who won’t have full access to their NHS medical record.’

How ‘Uber GP’ appointments work

Ben Teichman set up Doctaly with the help of a GP friend, Dr Dinesh Silva, after finding he had to wait two weeks for a GP appointment.

Under the model, a senior partner at a practice holds a contract with Doctaly and then any GPs at that practice are free to register a profile on the company’s website and offer appointment slots when they are available.

Doctaly pays the practice a cumulative fee each month based on the number of consultations provided, and the practice then calculates how each GP should be remunerated – salaried GPs may have some of the fee deducted, for example to cover use of the room and reception staff.

Patients use the website to choose a doctor and book a 15-minute appointment slot, paying from £39.99 to £69.99 depending on the time and day of the week. The booking process requires the patient to confirm that they are not registered with the particular GP practice they choose.

Patients are also advised Doctaly does not provide emergency care, and that patients needing care for psychological problems or long-term condition management are better off going to their regular GP who understands their medical history.

After a Doctaly consultation, the GP provides the patient with a printed copy of the consultation notes and the patient is free to decide whether not not they wish to share the information with their NHS GP.

Readers' comments (67)

  • There are clearly issues where GP's will find time available to see private patients when they would not stay longer to see the NHS they are contracted to see.

    I sense there is a fear that GP's realise that in time this Uber service will actually send the patient to the most appropriate clinician relevant to their symptoms and that means cutting out the very expensive middle man and getting the patient a better service and ultimately saying the NHS abortive fees spent on very expensive referrers.

    Bring it on.

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  • no matter what we think it is going to happen
    remember fragmentation of NHS by introducing AQPs etc and then the CQC and this is the final straw
    by the next elections we will be sold to external firms
    glad I have retired but feel sad for the younger coleagues

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  • other health professional @1.32pm is clearly clueless about the role of GP in the NHS

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  • GPs are allowed to do private practice upto a certain amount, using NHS premises.A declaration has to be signed to this effect every three years, so as to receive full rent and rates reimbursement for their premises. If a GP offers private appointments after 6.30 pm. for patients not on his list, this is fully within the GPs rights. Fully legal and totally above board. For a GP to see patients privately between the hours of 8.30 am. and 6.30 pm. would be disputable, only because the GMS contract is extremely loosely worded. Any interpretation would be correct or wrong.
    Retired GP 5 years.

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  • We already pay for the NHS through our taxes. Anyone who charges me for a GP appointment will be refused and I shall in any case send the bill to the Government for taxing us while starving the public service of funds. The Austerity programme has failed to reduce the public deficit caused by the 2007 Bankers' Crash and we have a £90bn Trade Deficit due to importing more value than we export. This Government could not run a Piss-up in a Brewery. Why should we have to pay extra for that?

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  • To Paul at 10:51 -I am a full time GP. This week I have had a medical problem. It is minor and will settle within a few weeks. But evidence based cheap medication (not an antibiotic or pregabablin) would help. I cannot get a GP appointment because I work full time and the problem is not severe enough to cancel my own patients to take time off. Why wouldn't I want to pay £40 to search for a GP available in the evening within 20 miles? Instead I have taken the choice not to get treatment knowing it will settle, even although I have the right to get free NHS treatment which would make me feel better. However I would not myself offer this service for a variety of reasons but largely because I would expect a string of patients expecting to buy inappropriate antibiotics etc. If I wished to use up my free time to get money I would do OOH work which at least in Scotland seems to have minimal indemnity costs. I suspect I would still be seeing lots of patients demanding antibiotics inappropriately as their own GP would not prescribe them, but at least it would be easier to refuse.

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  • Anon. GP partner @ 9.48 on 19 Sept !

    Not so 'Ubergefucht' as the patients, particularly the poorly off ones, as always !!

    So it IS all about money for many of you !!?

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