A new private GP company offering ‘Uber’-style GP appointments is preparing to roll out the service across the whole of England after a successful pilot in two north London boroughs.
The Doctaly service doesn’t employ GPs itself, but is the first reported service to match NHS GPs to patients who are prepared to pay a fee to avoid the usual wait to see their GP.
The GPs will see patients in their own practice and in their spare time, the company says.
But GP leaders warned they are ‘very concerned’ about the service, which they said would destabilise general practice and undermine the NHS, and encourages ‘queue-jumping’ for patients who can afford it.
Doctaly has been running for the past month at 10 practices in the London boroughs of Barnet and Enfield, with around 50 GPs signed up to offer appointments at various times.
The service is not yet available as an app, with patients booking appointments through the Doctaly website.
But the company has been likened to Uber – an app that allows customers to book taxis – because it does not employ the GPs directly, instead providing them with the framework to offer the appointments and then taking a cut of the fee.
Doctaly told Pulse that having proved the concept could work – with both patients and GPs keen to sign up – the service is now being rolled out with the aim of reaching the rest of London by the end of this year and the whole country by 2018.
Company founder Ben Teichman insisted the service is not about queue jumping but ‘quite the opposite’.
He said: ‘Doctaly is essentially a hybrid service between the NHS and existing private practice making private appointments more affordable, thereby opening them up to a wider audience.
‘It is not about queue jumping. Quite the opposite in fact. It should help drive queues down in surgeries and also take traffic away from A&E. An A&E appointment can cost the NHS £150 and if access wasn’t an issue, many of these patients could have been successfully treated by a GP.’
He said that the service was a ‘lucrative and convenient alternative’ for part-time GPs, and even full-time GPs who may ’want to do a few appointments on their admin day if they’ve got time’.
But Dr Jackie Applebee, chair of Tower Hamlets LMC in east London and Doctors in Unite representative on the GPC, said the service was ‘very worrying’ and would ‘further destabilise general practice’.
Dr Applebee added: ‘This is not the answer to the crisis in general practice. I acknowledge that access is a problem, but the fault for this lies at the door of the Government who have disinvested in general practice for years so that we now have an unprecedented workforce crisis.
‘This sort of service is the slippery slope towards privatisation of the NHS. It introduces the principle of topping up NHS services with purchased services if one has the disposable income. If the more affluent begin to do this in significant numbers it is only a small step to an insurance-based health service.’
GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘Patients want and deserve a properly funded NHS GP service, based on the registered list, so they can get appropriate timely access to their local GP and that practices have the resources and capacity to offer this.
‘While patients can access and pay for private GPs or consultants, the risk is a more fragmented service and patients having remote consultations with doctors they don’t know and who won’t have full access to their NHS medical record.’
How ‘Uber GP’ appointments work
Ben Teichman set up Doctaly with the help of a GP friend, Dr Dinesh Silva, after finding he had to wait two weeks for a GP appointment.
Under the model, a senior partner at a practice holds a contract with Doctaly and then any GPs at that practice are free to register a profile on the company’s website and offer appointment slots when they are available.
Doctaly pays the practice a cumulative fee each month based on the number of consultations provided, and the practice then calculates how each GP should be remunerated – salaried GPs may have some of the fee deducted, for example to cover use of the room and reception staff.
Patients use the website to choose a doctor and book a 15-minute appointment slot, paying from £39.99 to £69.99 depending on the time and day of the week. The booking process requires the patient to confirm that they are not registered with the particular GP practice they choose.
Patients are also advised Doctaly does not provide emergency care, and that patients needing care for psychological problems or long-term condition management are better off going to their regular GP who understands their medical history.
After a Doctaly consultation, the GP provides the patient with a printed copy of the consultation notes and the patient is free to decide whether not not they wish to share the information with their NHS GP.