Exclusive The private company offering online GP appointments to Londoners via a host GP practice now has 26,000 NHS patients.
Babylon, the company behind the GP at Hand app – which promises a video consultation within two hours – said this comes as applications are coming in at a rate of ‘one every two minutes’.
It also said patients were ‘loving’ the service, giving it a ‘95% approval rating’.
The news comes as local GP leaders from across the UK voted to demand an end to online providers who ‘cherry pick’ their patients at Friday’s LMCs Conference.
Although the motion did not mention Babylon by name, many delegates used GP at Hand – which has stated an intention to roll out to other areas of England – as an example.
GP at Hand advises that its service may be ‘less appropriate’ for people who are pregnant or who have learning difficulties, drug dependancy, complex mental helath conditions, dementia or conditions related to frailty.
But a Babylon spokesperson said patients who have signed up to the service are ‘across the ages from children, to people over 80, to people with complex health needs, as well as people in good health’.
The LMC motion said private companies who cherry pick patients ‘undermine’ general practice and said GPC should demand such services are blocked ‘unless they are prepared to provide a comprehensive package for all patients’.
It also called for practices to be given extra funding for ‘training, support and appropriate software and hardware’ in order to establish online consultation services.
Dr Bethan Rees, a representative from Hertfordshire LMC, said GP at Hand ‘takes funding away from general practice’ and ‘will undermine general practice as we know it’.
She said: ‘What we need to ensure is that all GP services provide online consulting and not to allow fragmentation of our health service.
‘The main problem with GP at Hand is that it allows cherry picking of patients which will financially undermine budgets of all of our general practices.’
But speaking against the motion, Dr Lynette Peterson from Oxfordshire LMC – who works for GP at Hand – said it shows general practice is a ‘progressive, forward looking and forward-planning profession’.
Adding that she wanted to ‘correct the misconception’ around the claim ‘that it’s all cherry picking’, she said: ‘Yes there are some that are easy patients, but it also attracts quirky, difficult, complex patients with multiple morbidities, with complex conditions who are trying to use multiple providers.’
Dr Peterson also argued GP at Hand deals with ‘heartsink patients that the current NHS providers find difficult to deal with’.
She said: ‘Telemedicine can play a role in providing care for these difficult patients that have previously taken up a lot of time within the NHS. I do however agree that we need to provide a comprehensive package for all patients.’
A Babylon spokesperson told Pulse: ‘We’ve had more than 26,000 people sign up since we started, across the ages from children, to people over 80, to people with complex health needs, as well as people in good health.’
‘We are getting one application every two minutes and patients are loving the service with the GP at Hand app receiving a 95% approval rating from users.’
The GPC told Pulse at the end of January that it was considering ‘all legal options’ to challenge the rollout of GP at Hand, following a vote of English LMCs in November.
NHS Hammersmith and Fulham CCG, which hosts Dr Jefferies and Partner, has launched a bid worth £250k to hire an ‘independent evaluator’ to assess the ‘outcomes and impact’ of GP at Hand.
Motion in full
AGENDA COMMITTEE MOTION TO BE PROPOSED BY HERTFORDSHIRE: That conference is concerned that new online GP services are targeting healthy, less complex patients, the funding for whom is partly used to subsidise care for more complex patients on the registered list and calls on GPC to:
(i) demand a stop to the undermining of general practice by private companies who cherry pick the patients to whom they offer services
(ii) demand that online consultation schemes do not become established unless they are prepared to provide a comprehensive package for all patients
(iii) support general practice to explore innovative ways of providing health care
(iv) demand the allocation of additional funds to NHS general practice to provide training, support and appropriate software and hardware in order to establish on line consultation services.
Motion carried in all parts.