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The lure of online GP providers

Editor’s blog

jaimie kaffash 2 duo 3x2

I’ll let you in to a little secret. At our Pulse LIVE event in March, we were worried about a backlash about Babylon – the private online GP service that is taking on NHS patients – attending as an exhibitor. We knew the strength of feeling among our readers, and the Pulse editorial team was not in favour of their presence.

But editorial independence – which we pride ourselves on – works both ways, and just as we are not dictated to by advertisers, we have little say over who advertises with us.

However, the event itself was an eye opener. Because – as Copperfield brilliantly detailed – crowds were swarming around the stand, with delegates genuinely interested in the recruitment packages on offer. And there were real benefits on offer: good pay, indemnity, private health insurance among other things. With the problems in routine general practice showing no signs of abating, this lure is understandable.

So it is not wholly surprising that Babylon told Pulse that it has already recruited 200 GPs, who in part service the 40,000 patients who have signed up with the West London practice offering the GP at Hand online service.

There are risks for GPs deciding to join online providers

At the same time, 36 practices have signed up with Doctaly, the start-up company pairing NHS GP practices with private fee-paying patients. It seems the lure of the online providers is real.

But let’s insert a note of caution. There are risks for GPs deciding to join online providers. A number of bodies are actively against it: CCGs have doubts around such schemes; the CQC is turning its attention towards online prescribers; and the BMA has already threatened a judicial review.

Meanwhile, the Unite union today turned its attention to Babylon, calling on health secretary Jeremy Hunt to ‘scrap this flawed and misguided model’, echoing the concerns of many grassroots GPs.

Babylon is standing firm, continuing to assert ‘it is high time that everyone respected people’s right to choose the NHS GP service that works best for them’.

Yet in such a – to use another phrase in the news – ‘hostile environment’, can Babylon and their competitors continue to thrive? It would not be a massive surprise if, despite the current successes, the private online GP bubble is on its way to bursting. 

Jaimie Kaffash is editor of Pulse


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Readers' comments (5)

  • Vinci Ho

    (1) For GP at Hand/Babylon , it was the CCG of concern that fired an own goal itself . Pay them at a lower tariff rate as they have exclusion criteria in selecting patients on registration. Peanut picking is not going to last .
    (2) If patients want to pay to see a GP , let it me. Commercial opportunity created . What is the problem? Of course , one has to understand the terms and conditions before paying the fee.
    (3) For the younger ones , a job is just a job. Pay my bills and holidays , no hard feelings. Yes, may want to look at something else if one wants to pursue a 'career'. But , under the current state of the world , WTF, a well paid job is good enough .

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  • Vinci Ho

    Let it be.

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  • Healthy Cynic

    There is a further issue here (and one that Agent Hunt will be loving). In order to maintain there list sizes, city GPs will find them having to compete with Babylon. They will have to offer instant Skype consultations to the entitled young professional worried well. At no extra cost to the NHS. A potentially endless increase in demand. Unfunded.

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  • AlanAlmond

    If It’s going to be on the NHS don’t subsidise it by funding it at the same rate as a normal GP service. Provide it as a private service if there is a demand, add it on as an NHS extra if you like but the fact that it’s being rolled out and paid for dressed up as a full blown, bona fide replacement GP service (when it quite evidently isn’t) without analysis on the NHS is obscene. There are massive hoops to jump through for anyone wanting to set up a normal face to face NHS practice, making it almost impossible for a regular GP to set up a new practice on their own, but if you want to do something half arsed via video streaming the door is wide open. This is a funding loop hole that’s being voraciously exploited. Its the politics of consumerism and it stinks. Consumerism is fine in business, but not in a tax funded, resource limited service like the NHS.

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  • Do the maths. Babylon are losing money and it's being subsidised by VC funding. There indemnity doesn't cover you when you leave the organisation. How many years do you give it?

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