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GP campaign group calls for Babylon boycott until ‘full impact’ is known

A grassroots GP campaign group has called on GPs to boycott working with Babylon until the independent evaluation of its NHS service is complete and the ‘full impact’ of the model is known.

In a statement today, GP Survival said it ‘deplores’ NHS England’s decision to remove the block on private digital company’s expansion of its NHS services to the UK’s second-largest city.

The group – which has nearly 8,000 members – said it believes the Babylon GP at Hand model is ‘harmful’ and said there are ‘moral and ethical arguments’ that must be considered.

Babylon first joined up with a London GP practice at the end of 2017, and started offering online GP services – such as video consultations – across the capital. This caused controversy among GPs, as the service deregistered patients from their local practice when they signed up to the GP app.

Earlier this week, NHS Hammersmith and Fulham CCG – which hosts the digital-first service – announced NHS England had lifted its ban on Babylon GP at Hand expanding to Birmingham, after months of discussions.

Babylon applied to launch a physical branch of its online services in Birmingham last year, but the plans were rejected by NHS Hammersmith and Fulham CCG – which referred the decision to NHS England – due to patient safety concerns relating to local infrastructure.

This came after NHS Birmingham and Solihull CCG wrote a letter to the London CCG, formally objecting to the move on the grounds of ‘clinical safety’.

Despite this, Pulse revealed Babylon still started recruiting GPs for the Birmingham expansion.

Following the decision, Babylon hinted it is looking to expand ‘across the country’.

In the statement made today, GP Survival said: ‘GP Survival committee deplores the decision of NHS England to allow further expansion of the Babylon GP-at-Hand model as announced this week.

‘We believe the model is harmful for equity of care to all patients, and independent full evaluation of the impact of the service has yet to be completed to ensure patient safety.’

The group said while it is ‘keen for development of new technology and innovation to support patient care’, this must be done in an ‘equitable manner that does not destabilise current NHS services’.

‘GP Survival calls for all GPs to consider boycotting working for Babylon until full impact evaluation is completed. While the company may argue they are operating within the NHS contract, we believe there are moral and ethical arguments to consider which go beyond financial gains for this company.

‘We suggest each GP needs to consider, individually, whether supporting the ethos of this company is in the best interest of all patients reliant upon the NHS,’ it continued.

A Babylon spokesperson said: ‘People have a right to choose the NHS practice that best fits with their lifestyles and their family’s needs. Babylon and GP at hand are overseen and scrutinised by NHS England, the CQC, the MHRA, NHS Hammersmith and Fulham CCG and many others. We meet and exceed all standards set out in the NHS GP contract and deliver a full NHS GP service 24/7/365 which over 40,000 people have already chosen to register with.

‘Our 200 plus GPs report much higher satisfaction and motivation than doctors in traditional practices, and 96% of our many thousands of ratings are positive. Vested interests will always try to stop innovation, but what matters is the needs and desires of patients.

‘The NHS England decision to allow Babylon GP at hand to expand to Birmingham underlines and supports this.’

Last month, Pulse revealed NHS Hammersmith and Fulham might not be able to ‘pay its bills’, due to financial pressures caused by tens of thousands of patients signing up to the digital-first NHS GP service.

The CCG then warned the costs associated with the service practice could ‘jeopardise’ other health and care services in the area if not resolved.