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NHS assessing Babylon AI triage for wider rollout


covid vaccination records


Exclusive NHSX and NHS England are considering the viability of a wider roll out of an artificial intelligence triage model based on that used by Babylon, Pulse understands.

A senior delegation from NHS England and NHSX last month visited University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB) to look at its use of the Babylon technology, Pulse has learned.

The visit came days before NHS England issued a letter to all GP practices, ordering them to offer face-to-face appointments to all patients if that is their preference and open their receptions for walk-ins.

However, the health secretary – an advocate for digital-first services – had previously indicated that GPs should continue current levels of remote consulting after the pandemic.

NHSX has said it is ‘not working on a national programme involving Babylon’. 

But Pulse can reveal that on 10 May, NHSX chief executive and chief digital officer Matthew Gould and Tara Donnelly and NHS England chief financial officer and chief operating officer Julian Kelly and Amanda Pritchard attended UHB.

Pulse understands that NHSX and NHS England are looking into the feasibility of using the app-based triage model similar to that used by Babylon – which was launched at UHB in April last year – across England.

It followed a similar visit by health secretary Matt Hancock in April.

NHS England has previously looked into the viability of rolling out the Babylon model more widely, including pilots in North West London, but an assessment concluded it was unfeasible.

In 2019, an NHS England consultation on digital services revealed plans to make it easier for digital-first providers such as Babylon to open physical practices in deprived areas, by reforming out-of-area patient registration rules that had allowed Babylon’s NHS GP at Hand to expand. The plans were approved later that year.

NHS England started pursuing changes to the GP contract to boost more ‘digital-first’ GP consultations, along the lines of what Babylon has to offer, in 2018.

At the time, it said it aimed to enable ‘full adoption’ of digital primary care models which will likely have ‘transformed’ general practice ‘by the end of the next decade’.

Babylon has said that its AI triage ‘Covid care assistant’ app builds on the triage technology of its ‘ask A&E’ symptom checker. It also offers live chat, virtual consultation and referral functions.

Announcing its rollout at UHB and the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust last year, Babylon said that discussions with ‘NHS organisations across the country’ were ‘progressing at pace’ and that a ‘second wave’ of partnerships was ‘anticipated shortly’.

The Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust also rolled out the technology in May last year.

In Wolverhampton, 10 local GP practices partnered with the trust and Babylon in a 10-year project allowing GPs and hospital doctors to share their filmed consultations with each other and allowing patients to view the videos and access their records and triage services through an app.

Concerns have been raised around the safety of triage apps, including by the CQC and a doctor who was labelled a ‘troll’ by Babylon after he tested its AI app and reported the results on social media.

In 2019, the NHS long-term plan pledged that everyone who wants them will be able to have digital GP appointments within the next five years.

Both NHS boss Simon Stevens and the Government have long advocated for digital-first GP services, saying they could help alleviate workforce issues in general practice.

READERS' COMMENTS [13]

Douglas Callow 4 June, 2021 10:47 am

vertical integration Medina takeovers Babylon and other AI platforms increasingly first POC
Can’t say we were not warned…

Turn out The Lights 4 June, 2021 11:10 am

Stinks a little you would think someone high up in the DoH,had a vested interest!

David Jarvis 4 June, 2021 11:29 am

There seems to be a lack of clinicians mentioned in this assessment. Could it be because they can see the emperors new clothes for what they are? 111 use algorithms and look how safe and efective that seems to be.

Andrew Jackson 4 June, 2021 12:33 pm

@DJ
I agree
why can’t we have a normal hard working coal face GP assessing some of these wonderous new ways of working before our practices and roles are ripped up?

Decorum Est 4 June, 2021 1:06 pm

@DJ
I also agree.
Non-medics have so little understanding of medicine, that they consider replacing clinicians with AI to be a functional equivalent. Have these non- medical administrators examined their own experiences (and those of their family and friends)? Thought not!

Patrufini Duffy 4 June, 2021 5:30 pm

Mathew Gould – CEO of NHSx – previous British Ambassador to Israel, where he set up the UK-Israel Tech Hub. No links to USA there of course.

(June 03. 21)
Babylon Holdings Ltd. is going public via a merger with a blank-check company run by former Groupon Inc. executives. The transaction implies an equity value of about $4.2 billion for Babylon

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-06-03/babylon-to-go-public-in-deal-with-ex-groupon-ceo-s-alkuri-spac

Hello NHS-USA…

David OHagan 4 June, 2021 10:50 pm

Another advert, for a person who has just sold a product for 3 Billion,
does he pay?
It might be said that theses adverts are the only product.
(certainly isn’t a functional business ‘ai’ is not what investors think it is)

Simon Gilbert 5 June, 2021 9:05 am

I think one of the difficulties of symptom checking is that although we are taught 80% of the diagnosis is from the history it doesn’t follow that 80% of diagnoses are from history alone.
If there were peaks and troughs in capacity electronic triage could unblock this, however UK primary care is at peak capacity every single day.

David jenkins 5 June, 2021 11:55 am

reminds me of the computer programmer in the late ’60’s who thought he could teach a computer to translate into russian.

got computer to translate “out of sight out of mind” into russian, and then back to english.

came back as “blind idiot”

true story – don’t trust artificial intelligence.

John Graham Munro 5 June, 2021 4:57 pm

At the risk of getting a lot of flak from my colleagues, I must side with Bel Mooney of the Daily Mail——-G.Ps are a lazy bunch of oiks made worse by the pandemic

terry sullivan 5 June, 2021 8:40 pm

is hancock on babylon payroll?

Tj Motown 6 June, 2021 8:13 am

Babylon approaching IPO on stock exchange (just reported yesterday on BBC). I wonder if any of the above are private holders. Any declarations of interest? Imagine being in such a position and deliberately generating hype. Naughty.

David Mummery 6 June, 2021 9:54 am

This definitely has the feel of a ‘digital health bubble’..