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Babylon app ‘takes pressure off’ GPs to help all patients, says health secretary

GP at Hand improves access to services for patients, even if they don’t use the app because it is ‘taking pressure off the NHS’, the health secretary has said.

Speaking at Babylon’s headquarters in London yesterday, health secretary Matt Hancock said the video consultation company’s NHS service ‘can help to remove’ the ‘increasing demand in the NHS’.

He also clarified comments he made yesterday in which he called for GP at Hand to be ‘available to all’.

He said he wants the virtual GP service to expand ‘so that loads of companies can do what Babylon is doing’.

This comes after the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed to Pulse that that Mr Hancock is endorsing the national roll out of the GP at Hand app.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Mr Hancock said the GP at Hand service, which has signed up over 44,000 patients since its launch in November, ‘is revolutionary’.

He said: ‘I want to see GP at Hand available to all, not based on their postcode.’

However, he later said at Babylon’s headquarters: ‘I care about helping GP at Hand to expand not because I want to help Babylon but because I want the rules to be in place and the system to work so that loads of companies can come and do what Babylon are doing. I want to help your competitors even before they’re starting.

He added that although GP at Hand ‘doesn’t necessarily work for all patients’, he said: ‘It works for patients who don’t use it too, by taking pressure off the NHS.’

Mr Hancock said: ‘By taking pressure off the NHS it can remove and help to remove one of the biggest challenges we face which is the increasing demand in the NHS so it can help with clinicians. 

‘But it does not replace the need for GPs – it augments the need for human GPs. It helps to deliver ultimately a better service.’

Mr Hancock has previously said he is a patient of Babylon’s GP at Hand app, which promises an online consultation with an NHS GP within hours.

His speech followed Babylon’s pledge to spend £75m developing artificial intelligence that will help GPs diagnose and manage chronic conditions.

BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said most GPs ‘would like to offer these appointments to their own patients … but funding, resources and training need to be made available to make this happen’.

He said GPs face ‘issues of ethics, confidentiality and accountability that must seriously be considered before systems are put in place’.

Dr Vautrey added: ‘Patients don’t want their local GP practice replaced by a remote anonymous call centre.’ 

The BMA has already called for ‘online access [to be] made available to all practices on an equal basis’ negating the need for NHS England to overhaul core funding allocations as a result of ‘digital-first’ GP practices.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard has previously said the NHS has ‘a lot to learn’ from Babylon’s ‘phenomenal’ GP at Hand app, which she said was ‘disrupting’ general practice.