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Hancock defends GP at Hand endorsement by arguing GP practices are all ‘private’

Health secretary Matt Hancock has responded to GP criticism of his endorsement of Babylon’s GP at Hand app, saying it does not differ to other GP practices who are also ‘private’.

The RCGP wrote to Mr Hancock to complain after he spoke out to back a national rollout of the app last month.

GP leaders warned that the service, which operates under the out-of-area registration scheme, does not supply home visits, and is not recommended for certain patient groups, will create a ‘two-tier’ health service.

But, addressing the RCGP’s concerns at a Conservative Party conference fringe event earlier this week, Mr Hancock said: ‘

Mr Hancock said: ‘I heard your concerns… last week. One coda is that when Babylon is called a private company – I would remind everybody that almost all GP practices are private companies – so this isn’t a public-private thing at all.

‘This is about how do you make sure that the GP services that we offer in the future are as good as possible.’

He reiterated calls to ‘change the rules’ to enable technology such as GP at Hand to work better in the system. 

He said: ‘I know the arrival of GP at Hand has complicated the way that GP services are funded and commissioned because technically everybody moves on to a list somewhere in Fulham… but that’s because that’s how the old rules operated so we need to change those rules.’

The BMA called for an end to out-of-area regulations last month in an effort to promote equitable access to digital systems.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘GPs aren’t afraid of tech or innovation… but for me the priority has to be that it’s safe, that it reduces workload and doesn’t increase it, that it’s something that’s accessible to all people.

‘One of the challenges we have at the moment is that some of the new innovations that are coming in are widening the health divide.’

This comes after concerns that Babylon’s GP at Hand model, which now has over 44,000 patients, was destabilising practice income by registering patients to a host practice in London from across the city.