This site is intended for health professionals only

GP practices must have ‘level playing field’ with Babylon, says Hancock

Exclusive There must be a ‘genuine level playing field’ for GP practices competing with Babylon GP at Hand, the health secretary has said. 

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Pulse, Matt Hancock said rules had to change to ensure that they ‘work fairly for everyone’.

Since launching in November 2017, Babylon GP at Hand has signed up over 30,000 patients from all over London to its Fulham base via the out-of-area registration scheme – around three-quarters (73%) of whom are aged 20-34.

This has led to ‘cherry-picking’ allegations from the likes of RCGP and the BMA, who fear other practices are left with patients with a higher workload – although Babylon argues this is dealt with within the funding formula.

Asked about the situation, Mr Hancock said: ‘So that absolutely needs dealing with. Even when I’ve been talking with Babylon I’ve been clear on this point.

‘When you get new technology coming down the track, if the rules don’t work with new technology, for instance the idea that all Babylon patients are registered in one practice in Hammersmith and Fulham, what you need to do is not reject the technology but change the rules so they work fairly for everyone.’

Asked whether he is looking make changes to the rules, Mr Hancock said: ‘Absolutely. So having a level playing field where there is a genuine level playing field for practices is incredibly important to me.

‘In the past, the location of the GP practice was a decent enough for the proxy for the location of the patient that the geographic allocation of resources could reasonably follow the practice location. 

‘But when you have a practice claiming that that address is the GP’s surgery for tens of thousands of people who live all over the city, in this case London, then clearly the rules need to change to address that.’

It comes as an NHS England consultation on GP contract changes, launched last summer, proposed a reduction to the payment to practices for out-of-area patients.

Currently, practices receive the same payment for both in-area and out-of-area patients, even though GPs do not have to deliver home visits or out-of-hours care to out-of-area patients.

But Mr Hancock, who has faced severe criticism from GP leaders for embracing Babylon GP at Hand, said he did not regret his supportive stance on the new entrant.

‘No! I’m a big supporter of technology in the NHS. I’m delighted that companies are investing money in the UK and there’s lots of different options and I’ve always been clear that what I care about is modern technology being used effectively,’ he said.

But Mr Hancock added that he does not have a preference for any specific provider of GP consultation technology.

He said: ‘I’m very excited that there are so many other people coming forward with technological support for GP practices and I hold no brief for any individual company. What I want is technology to support clinicians and support patients and address the user need. That’s what matters to me.’

NHS England has said it is pursuing changes to the GP contract to boost more ‘digital-first’ GP consultations, along the lines of what Babylon has to offer.

NHS Hammersmith and Fulham CCG lifted its clinical restrictions for which patients Babylon GP at Hand app should sign up in November last year. Prior to this, patients with a range of conditions were advised it may not be ‘clinically appropriate’ for them to use the service.