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Health secretary featured in Babylon-sponsored newspaper interview

Health secretary Matt Hancock has given an interview to the Evening Standard praising private GP service provider Babylon in an article carrying Babylon branding.

Mr Hancock said of Babylon’s GP at Hand app that that ‘by serving some people more efficiently this technology allows more resources for people visiting GPs directly’.

The interview appeared alongside Babylon branding in the Evening Standard’s ‘Future London’ supplement on Wednesday 28 November.

The health secretary also acknowledged that he had become ‘known’ for personally using Babylon’s GP at Hand app.

The Department of Health and Social Care has denied that it had prior knowledge that Babylon’s branding would part of the article when it agreed to the interview and said that Mr Hancock had spoken to the Standard about his technology vision for the NHS.

Babylon branding was later removed from the online version of the article.

The Evening Standard said that the interview was published within a supplement focusing on the future of healthcare in London which was sponsored by Babylon, but that the articles in the supplement were not advertorials and the Evening Standard retained full editorial control over them.

A spokesperson for the newspaper said: ‘It was an editorial decision to approach Matt Hancock for an interview, and he agreed. The interview was subject to the full rigour of Evening Standard editorial judgment.’

Mr Hancock has previously lauded Babylon’s model, which allows NHS patients from across London to sign up to its practice for digital consultations on an app, via the out-of-area patient registration scheme.

The health secretary has said he is a patient of Babylon, and that the company is ‘taking the pressure off the NHS’.

Last week, GP leaders declared that they ‘cannot have confidence’ in Mr Hancock if he continues to publicly support Babylon.

Mr Hancock’s interview with the Standard comes just as he backtracked on a tweet he made last week which said incorrectly that GP figures had risen by 1,000, despite the number of qualified practitioners actually falling.

The figure was published in NHS workforce figures and represents the annual intake of trainees joining the workforce in August, with the number of qualified GPs in fact dropping by 24 in the period.

Speaking at the King’s Fund annual conference on Wednesday, Mr Hancock said: ‘I shared a link to NHS workforce figures on Twitter showing the numbers of GPs had risen by 1,000. The fact I shared is true, but I used figures that weren’t comparable.

‘I was accused of deliberately trying to mislead people. I wasn’t, and the policy consequences are unchanged: we still need more GPs. But those figures were not the best way to show what was happening in the system so I deleted the tweet.’