Newly-appointed health secretary Matt Hancock has said he is a patient of GP at Hand, the controversial NHS GP app provided by private company Babylon.
Babylon uses the out-of-area registration scheme to sign up NHS patients to its digital service via a host GMS practice based in Fulham, southwest London.
But GPs have called on NHS England to put a stop to the app, which they say ‘cherry picks’ fit, young and healthy patients and financially destabilises traditional GP practices.
The Mail reports that Mr Hancock, who was previously digital, culture, media and sport secretary, finds the GP at Hand service to be ‘brilliant’.
Speaking at an event a month ago, the health secretary-to-be said: ‘I’ve signed up for Babylon Health so I no longer have a physical GP.
‘My GP is through the NHS on Babylon Health – it’s brilliant.’
A spokesperson for Mr Hancock confirmed that he was, in fact, referring to the GP at Hand app.
Since its launch last November, GP at Hand patients are promised an online GP consultation within hours, and a next-day face-to-face appointment if required at a number of London hubs. To date, some 30,000 patients have joined.
But GP leaders including the the BMA, Londonwide LMCs and the RCGP have raised concerns about the app’s demographic, and GPs in Doctors in Unite said it is ‘threatening general practice across the UK’.
Dr David Wrigley, a GP in Lancashire and chair of Doctors in Unite, said: ‘We are very concerned about the model of care that GP at Hand uses and how it cherry picks the young and tech savvy patients.
‘Income is lost from practices they leave – income needed for the NHS risk pool that is essential to the survival of every surgery in the country. We urge Mr Hancock to look at the deeper issues affecting general practice on this topic and I’d be happy to meet him to explain our significant concerns.’
Tower Hamlets LMC chair Dr Jackie Applebee said: ‘It is a pity that the new health secretary has not acquainted himself with the fact that widespread concern has been expressed by GPs with regard to the model of GP at Hand.
‘We are not Luddites and embrace innovation when it is evidence based. NHS general practice has been at the forefront of developing technology in the health service.
‘However, GP at Hand introduces a new version of Tudor-Hart’s inverse care law in that it improves access for the internet savvy at the expense of those less technically literate, the latter tending to be the older and sicker.’
She added: ‘I hope that this does not signal his general approach, as I hope that we will be able to work with him to the benefit of all who use the NHS not just one cohort.’
Babylon also recently sparked GP criticism when it claimed its app is able to provide clinical advice to patients that is ‘on par’ with doctors.
GP at Hand does not block anybody from using the service, but says people who are frail or elderly, pregnant or have severe mental health issues may be advised they are better serviced by a local practice and, according to Babylon, this is on advice from NHS England.
It has since launched a consultation into GP contract funding changes aimed at enabling ‘full adoption’ of ‘digital’ primary care models, which it said would increase ‘fairness’ by reducing the payment to practices for out-of-area patients and amending London weighting and rurality index payments.
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard has said the NHS has ‘a lot to learn’ from Babylon’s ‘phenomenal’ GP at Hand app, which she said was ‘disrupting’ general practice.
A Babylon spokesperson declined to comment.
Commenting on the appointment of the previously tech-focused new health secretary yesterday, Londonwide LMCs chief executive Dr Michelle Drage said she hoped that Mr Hancock was ‘open to supporting what works’ and that ‘together we can help practices benefit from what is new’.