Babylon, the company behind the GP at Hand online app, now has 200 GPs on its roster, it has been revealed.
This includes GPs working across its private and NHS services, remotely or from its London headquarters.
Pulse has learned that Babylon offers a full-time salary of around £90,000 to work from home, or £108,000 if office based.
But GP leaders warned the company’s rapid expansion risked spreading the rest of the NHS GP workforce ‘more thinly’.
The GP at Hand app, which launched across London in November, pledges an online appointment ‘within minutes’ and a same or next-day face-to-face appointment at five London bases if required.
GP at Hand, which operates using a host GMS practice and the out-of-area registration scheme, has signed up over 20,000 patients to date. But the company told Pulse it is processing applications that would take it to 40,000 users.
Meanwhile, the private Babylon service currently has 575,000 members across the UK.
Tower Hamlets LMC chair Dr Jackie Applebee, who said practices in her area have so far lost around 1,500 patients to GP at Hand, expressed concern about the wider implications of swathes of GPs going to work for Babylon.
She said: ‘It’s just going to spread the NHS workforce, for the rest of us, more and more thinly. I suppose it goes back to the same old argument, that the rest of us are going to be left looking after the more complex patients.
‘I can see why it is attractive to go and work for them, because they are offering flexible working hours, I imagine a good salary, and it’s an easy workload if it’s young single-issue patients. But it’s the long-term impact of dividing the GP workforce into those who look after complex patients and those who look after the more simple patients. It de-skills us as a profession.’
BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse that they are ‘continuing to review’ the development of Babylon’s expansion ‘very closely’, ‘including the legal basis under which the practice is operating’.
Although Dr Vautrey said Babylon can legally use the out-of-area registration scheme in the way that it does, the BMA is petitioning NHS England to amend that scheme.
The BMA’s concerns include patient continuity of care, as well as the future of the registered patient list system.
Dr Vautrey said: ‘The fact that they’ve got so many GPs involved would cause the question how much continuity of care they are able to offer individual patients and what the impact of that is in the long term.
‘We have repeated our concerns about the undermining of the registered list system by this particular service model, with its emphasis on out-of-area registration.’
Dr Vautrey added that while ‘individual doctors make their own decisions about how they want to work’ they ‘need to ensure they are working in an environment where it is safe’.
RCGP advice to GPs about working for online providers included closely considering their safety ratings.
What Babylon says
A Babylon spokesperson told Pulse: ‘We believe it is high time that everyone respected people’s right to choose the NHS GP service that works best for them. GP at Hand is one of the most successful and fastest-growing NHS services in the country. Over 40,000 people living and/or working in central London have applied to join GP at hand, which was launched less than six months ago, with over 90% of users who have rated our service giving us either a 4- or 5-star satisfaction rating for our digital appointments (which are available 24/7 – most often within two hours of requesting an appointment).
‘Additionally, Babylon can support GPs to be better able to provide high-quality care effectively and efficiently, in a way that is simply not possible for GPs working in a traditional general practice. That’s just one reason why 95% of GPs working for Babylon agree that they can “usually manage the amount of my work well” whereas the BMA found that 84% of GPs across the NHS were reporting that workload pressures are either “unmanageable” or “excessive” (Source: “Patient safety under threat from Pressures in General Practice”, BMA 2016).’