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GP at Hand expansion before full evaluation ‘beggars belief’, says GPC

Babylon GP at Hand getting the greenlight on its expansion to other cities – before the independent review on the service has been completed – ‘simply beggars belief’, BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey will say.

Speaking at the LMC UK conference in Belfast, Dr Vautrey is set to say that GPs do not want to be ‘undermined by “here today and who knows-where tomorrow” digital services’.

While the reduced funding for such services through the new English GP contract is a start, more needs to be done to curb the ‘abuse of the out-of-area regulations’ by some providers, he will say.

London-based digital-first GP provider Babylon GP at Hand was given the approval for an expansion to Birmingham last month.

The move was initially blocked by its host NHS Hammersmith and Fulham CCG, however NHS England later decided all issues had been resolved and the expansion could go forward.

At the time, Babylon welcomed the news, hinting at future expansions ‘across the country’, while GP leaders called the decision ‘wholly inappropriate’ as the ongoing independent evaluation of the service – expected this month – has yet to be published.

Addressing the LMC conference today, Dr Vautrey will say: ‘As GPs we want to build services in the communities we work in and serve. We don’t want them undermined by ‘here today and who knows- where tomorrow’ digital services.

‘And so for Hammersmith and Fulham CCG and NHS England to give the green light for GP at Hand to expand their service across England using a remote base in London, even before the independent review that they commissioned has been produced, simply beggars belief.

‘We’re starting to tackle this by reducing the funding they receive through the English contract changes but more needs to be done to limit this abuse of the out of area regulations.’

Dr Vautrey will then say that this is why ‘greater investment’ in GP IT is needed.

‘We need the deployment of broadband and IT infrastructure upgrades as soon as possible, for the best way to undermine digital providers is to offer the best of both worlds, and enable locally based practices to offer reliable and safe digital ways to access our services.

‘Of course, this has to be done without leading to an avalanche of unrealistic expectations and demand, or in ways that undermines patients’ confidence to manage their own care, so it means practices being in control and using new systems for the benefit of everyone – patients, practices and the wider system as a whole,’ he will say.

A Babylon spokersperson said: ‘Digital-first services are front and centre in the NHS long-term plan. They will soon be standard for GP practices across the country.

‘Many groups need to work together to establish the best way to proceed and Babylon will be working with the NHS every step of the way.’