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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)

  • yes there is huge opportunity here for private sector to make a fortune. Surprised private A+Es have not sprung up. I would pay to avoid sitting in misery for hours with drunks etc. I do not like it at all but it looks like NHS is failing so private sector will step in. If this is the case then GP contractors need to have their hands untied so that we can compete on a level playing field.

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  • USELESS BMA//GPC cling on to an NHS that exploits all staff. payment for activity excellent idea.

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  • Oh boy, this will slaughter OOH ability to recruit GP willing to work unsocial hours in London.

    Currently our area has many GP Partners topping up their income in hubs/OOH for rouphly £85/h.

    If this can bring in £100-£200/h, then say bye-bye to offering services to HNS.

    Then again, I can't begrudge any GP willing to go an extra mile to top up a miserable remuneration they NEED to support the vocational activity of being a GP partner.

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  • So - I assume that the NHS GP's that are seeing private patients in their NHS tax-payer funded surgeries in their "spare time" will use NHS reception staff, NHS admin staff, NHS clincal systems, the practice's own CQC registration, NHS equipment etc and are effectively being paid twice. Can't really see them paying for using these facilities privately - can you ? Outrageous manipulation of the system, bordering on fraudulent - no wonder the NHS is going bankrupt...

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  • Practice Manager|16 Sep 2016 10:16am

    For some reason, when GP's hand the contract back to NHS England they are liable for the lease of the "NHS premises", they are liable for redundancy payments to "NHS Staff" and are left with hard to sell "NHS equipment" on top of having to deal with personal responsibilities of being registered with CQC (for a very personally funded fee).

    Are you really a practice manager?

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  • Harry Longman

    Exactly how do we know that appointments given in hours for a private fee are not in time taken away from NHS patients? Seems to me this cannot be audited, therefore it will be abused.

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  • Gosh, lots of people get hot under the collar when a service is set up for GPs to provide a service to patients willing to pay for it. Haven't consultants been offering a similar service for years? Hardly controversial stuff especially when the fee is cheaper than the cost of calling out a plumber.

    Shades of Great British Bake Off hysteria.

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  • Remember you are not allowed to see your own patients privately under GMS if it is an NHS core GP service.

    Breach of contract issues here.

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  • Better for patients.stop complaining.patients are important not your salary.

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  • |Harry Longman | Other healthcare professional|16 Sep 2016 10:33am

    As long as in-hours services are staffed to provide NHS services and can demonstrate this, - it's all above board. Rule of thumb would be that the GP seeing the patient is not rostered in to see NHS patients at the same time.

    If NHS wants to issue solid specific advice on what is expected from the GMS contract, then PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let them. NHS can't have the cake and eat it.

    I understand that this looks like a loophole and probably is one, however this is the stick that has been used to beat the GP's for a decade.

    Good to get on the other end of it for a change.

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