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GP campaigners stage protest against Babylon’s GP at Hand app

GPs are taking part in a protest against Babylon’s GP at Hand service in London this week.

The lunchtime protest, organised by the Tower Hamlets arm of campaign group Keep Our NHS Public, will take place outside the Poplar surgery arm of GP at Hand on Thursday.

The GP at Hand app, which launched across London in November, pledges an online appointment within seconds and a same or next-day face-to-face appointment at five London bases if required.

But the protesters are claiming that ‘registering with GP at Hand is disastrous for the NHS’.

Tower Hamlets LMC chair Dr Jackie Applebee, a GP in Bow and one of the protest organisers, said GP at Hand ‘seems to be deliberately targeting healthy young people’, which she said meant ‘taking money from the NHS, by picking the most profitable patients’.

As Pulse has previously reported, GP at Hand’s website specifies that patients with frailty, dementia, pregnancy, drug addiction, learning disability and complex mental health problems may be advised to register elsewhere.

Dr Applebee said: ‘Sick patients inevitably use more of the available funding and resources, but the system is fair because we all eventually end up in the group that’s sick.

‘But now that thousands of young Londoners are signing up with GP at Hand, they are taking NHS money away from GP surgeries who need it to take care of the old and sick. This is bad news for everyone – except GP at Hand.’

She further claimed the business model is ‘already causing problems’ for GPs across London.

She said: ‘Surgeries like my own are now getting lots of calls from angry former patients, who didn’t realise that by using GP at Hand they were deregistering from their usual surgery. Some are insisting on reregistering, causing a lot of extra work for our staff.’

But so far, the GP at Hand app has proved very popular with patients. Fulham-based GP practice Dr Jefferies and Partner, which hosts GP at Hand via the out-of-area registration scheme, now has 26,000 patients – up from 2,500 one year ago.

NHS Hammersmith and Fulham CCG, where the practice is based, has said the app is especially popular in ‘the 20-64 age group, with three-quarters under 35’.

A GP at Hand spokesperson said: ‘People have the right to choose their NHS practice. GP at hand is an NHS service; paid for by the NHS; providing NHS services to all patients – just like the vast majority of GP practices throughout the UK.

‘GP at Hand offers GP appointments within minutes via smartphone, 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week, 365 days-a-year. Since its launch in November 2017, the service has attracted over 26,000 members and received over 8,700 five-star ratings for our digital appointments.

‘Londoners clearly like GP at Hand, which as a free-at-point-of-need NHS service, extends 24/7 primary healthcare access to more members of the public.’

However, the London host CCG has also revealed the rapid expansion is threatening its financial balance, prompting it to ask NHS England for an in-year adjustment to its primary care allocation.