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Independents' Day

Why I have fears around our new health secretary

Dr Kailash Chand

When he was appointed health secretary, Jeremy Hunt told parliament that he visited an A&E department as he ’didn’t want to wait’ for the GP surgery to reopen. In doing so, he sent the message to the public at large that it is acceptable for people to ’bypass GPs and go straight to A&E’.

History is repeating itself. Now we learn that newly appointed health secretary Matt Hancock is a signed up member of the Babylon run health-app that is threatening the existing model of general practice. It seems, Mr Hancock doesn’t believe in the need for a physical GP. At an event in Central London last month, Mr Hancock said: ‘I’ve signed up for Babylon Health so I no longer have a physical GP.’

Babylon now has several hundred GPs on its roster, working across its private and NHS services, remotely or from its London headquarters signing up several thousand patients. The new GP in Hand app undermines the basis on which GP practices achieve financial stability. Each time a patient registers with GP at Hand they become deregistered from their current practice, and the funding goes with them.

But there is also an equality of access issue. While anyone can join its service, the website says it may not be suitable for ’complex mental health problems or complex physical, psychological or social needs’. Or if you’re pregnant or older and frail, and as long as you don’t have dementia or learning difficulties or safeguarding issues.

We as GPs have experience the 80/20 rule - 20% of our patients need 80% of the work. This new service is cherry-picking its target population. GP at Hand is flawed in many other ways, including continuity when time and again the evidence shows that continuity is what patients cherish most. 

Call me a luddite, but I remain convinced - no app or algorithm will be able to do what a GP does. Much of what GPs do is based on a trusting relationship between a patient and a doctor over their lifetimes, and my experience of 30 years in general practice has taught me that GPs have a ‘gut feeling’ around what is wrong with a patient.

I have other concerns around Hancock. He is also reportedly close to free-market think tanks like IEA. In a speech in 2012, he backed introducing an insurance system to fund social care. He voted to speed up privatisation of the NHS, by voting in parliament to lift the cap on how much NHS hospitals can earn from private patients. This allowed NHS hospitals to earn unlimited amounts from private work at the cost of neglecting the NHS patients.

After the disastrous run of Lansley and Hunt for eight years, I fear Mr Hancock is no different, just a change of guard. Can we trust a neoliberal, IT enthusiast, a supporter of insurance system for health care with our NHS or general practice?

Readers' comments (7)

  • No is the short answer

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  • It's the same change of guard we have in our LMCs and GPC for that matter. Look around and you will find Federations chaired by LMC Chairpersons and million pound extended hours contracts given to LMC member groups without any tenders.
    Dr Nagpaul, we have had lip service and a demeaning, demoralizing service from all sides including yours. So please look at your own end too. GP land is miserable also because the one's that represent it are busy grinding their own axe.

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  • End of the line?

    I also have fears around the new foreign secretary ....
    To be honest this GOV is not doing well
    in all depts..

    The professions should be allowed to elect their own health secretary from within the profession..
    Who would we like as health secretary

    Please not Prof Darzi

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  • End of the line?

    Conflict of interest
    Can we demand he pays it back in the interests of probity
    or ask him to resign

    See all the fuss about the leave brexit campain and over spending

    Its a matter of principle

    Does probity only matter for individual gp appraisals ?

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  • Vinci Ho

    In a way , one has to understand when a new health secretary first takes his/her position, the first part of the ‘script’ is trying to shift focus of attention from all things people have been dissatisfied, which ,in this case , are bloody everything in NHS . He is never going to be a strong Secretary of State of a very weak government. The wind is blowing fast and furious in Westminster and certainly within the Tory Party because of Brexit fiasco. Robocop is robotic and all things he said were actually predictable up to now and had nothing , nothing at all , to solve any crisis in NHS and general practice.
    So let’s watch this space and he can say whatever he says , we will respond and spin back .
    The more worrying political scenario to me , instead , is a possibility of a Prime Minister called Agent Hunt........
    Our battles simply go on .
    Our job of overseeing and challenging policies(on NHS in our territory) of this government is never more essential , Jaimie.

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  • Vinci Ho

    ‘’A minister of state is excusable for the harm he does when the helm of government has forced his hand in a storm; but in the calm he is guilty of all the good he does not do.’’
    The interesting question is ,’ Is the storm self-inflicted?’

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  • Just Your Average Joe

    Matthew Hancock was said to be furious when he found out his demotion from Cabinet Office Minister to Culture Minister meant he would lose his perk of use of an official car and driver.

    After failing to persuade his new boss, Culture Secretary Karen Bradley, to let him have the department’s sole official car, Hancock demanded – and got – another one, say sources.

    Apologies on source -

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