A private, online GP service is being provided by a hospital in Kent, which will allow remote GPs to issue immediate prescriptions at its in-house pharmacy under a controversial new scheme.
Sheppey Community Hospital has become the first NHS hospital to provide the MedicSpot virtual GP service – which charges £39 per consultation and does not require patients to register – by hosting on-site equipment that allows remote GPs to assess patients and issue prescriptions that can be collected at the hospital.
NHS England told Pulse that the arrangement was allowed because while community pharmacies are contracted to provide NHS services, as private businesses they can also contract with other, private providers to supply non-NHS services.
But GPs warned that providing private GP services on hospital premises served to ‘undermine’ NHS GP practices and ‘drive a wedge’ between providers.
MedicSpot, which is already accessible at high-street pharmacies across 15 UK towns, sees consultations taking place via video call, with doctors able to remotely examine the patient through an attached blood pressure cuff, stethoscope, thermometer, pulse oximeter and a small camera for the throat and ears provided at the hospital.
The patient is instructed to use these instruments, with the results assessed by the remote GP.
Dr Jackie Applebee, a GP in Tower Hamlets, said: ‘It is bad enough that these services are available in pharmacies, but housing them in NHS hospitals undermines NHS general practice and drives a wedge between primary and secondary care when we should be working together for the good of our patients.’
She added: ‘This is no way to address the crisis in the NHS and these online private services are exploiting the crisis to make a profit. The way to address the crisis is to fund the NHS adequately, to the same levels as comparable countries.’
But GP and founder of MedicSpot Dr Zubair Ahmed, who intends to further expand his business, said it was ‘designed to try and take some pressure away from the NHS and increase capacity in our health system as a whole’.
He said: ‘The NHS recognises that access to safe primary healthcare needs to be improved to reduce inappropriate attendances to A&E and other knock-on effects.
‘MedicSpot is providing this which is already having cost savings for the NHS and we hope to work in collaboration with NHS stakeholders in future to magnify these positive effects.’
A recent Pulse survey revealed that eight in 10 GPs would welcome charging their own patients for non-NHS services, such as longer consultations and certain vaccinations. The demand was also supported in a conference motion by LMCs last year.
However, this is not allowed under the GP contract. As it stands, GPs can provide private services but not to patients who are on their registered practice list.