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One in four GPs willing to work for online providers

Exclusive A quarter (25%) of GPs would consider working for an online private provider of general practice, a Pulse survey has found.

This was in addition to the 1.6% of respondents to the survey of 760 GPs, who said they are already doing so on a full or part-time basis.

GPs told Pulse that improved pay, freedom from practice contracts and legal protection would encourage them to seek such employment.

But the vast majority of GPs, some 63.16%, said they would not consider working for online private GP services. 

These GPs said they were deterred by the work, which they believe is ‘high risk’ for both patient safety and doctors, and many dismissed this employment as ‘unethical’ and a threat to core general practice.

The remainder said they did not know.

Portfolio GPs were more likely to be tempted into this form of employment, with over a third (39%) saying they would consider this work, compared to just one in five (20%) GP partners.

The news follows the emergence of large players on the scene of private GP provision. This most notably includes Babylon – which offers both a private and an NHS service – and Push Doctor, which is also hoping to enter the NHS fray.

Babylon said earlier this year that it now has 200 GPs on its roster, working across its private services and NHS app GP at Hand. Pulse reported that the company offers a full-time salary of around £90,000 to work from home, or £108,000 if office based.

Dr Charlotte Ferriday, a GP in Devon, said she would not work for a private online GP service.

She said: ‘I think the results so far are shockingly poor in terms of the quality of prescribing, follow up and consideration of co-morbidities and it will do nothing to reduce the strain on the NHS.’

A GP registrar in Surrey said the work was ‘too high risk’. They said: ‘I don’t feel it is a risk worth taking when your liberty could be at stake.’

A salaried GP in Devon said: ‘I think the results so far are shockingly poor in terms of quality of prescribing, follow-up and consideration of co-morbidities and will do nothing to reduce the strain on the NHS.’

And a GP partner in Hampshire called the services ‘McDonald’s medicine for convenience for young people who do not need continuity’.

They added: ‘I have seen the problems of a recurrent online private GP prescription for controlled drugs.’

But Dr Zishan Syed, a GP partner in Maidstone and LMC representative for West Kent, said: ‘I would be willing to consider safe private alternatives as the present GMS contract in unfit for purpose and it was clear from past BMA/LMC conferences that our ‘leaders’ are determined to support failing NHS contracts even if viable private solutions as followed by dentists are available.’

He added: ‘Private practice allows a sensible alternative control of one’s workload which the BMA has failed to achieve spectacularly through failing to protect its members’ interests by insisting on this appalling GMS contract.’

BMA GP Committee workforce lead Dr Krishna Kasaraneni said: ‘What this survey shows is that the majority of GPs questioned clearly wish to continue working in the NHS providing face-to-face care to their patients, and that many have well-founded concerns over the ethics and safety of online models.

‘However, as GPs face unmanageable workloads in the face of rising demand and chronic underfunding, doctors are understandably frustrated by this. Within this climate, private providers that are able to cherry-pick healthier, better-off, patients, and offer a more flexible workload to practitioners, may be an attractive option to some.’

Doctors in Unite chair Dr David Wrigley, a GP in Carnforth, Lancashire, said: ‘These results show how reticent GPs are about working both in an online environment and for a large profit-driven health care company.’

A Babylon spokesperson said: ‘Babylon welcomes this Pulse survey result, as we believe we can support GPs to be better able to provide high-quality care effectively and efficiently, in a way that is simply not possible for GPs working in a traditional general practice to do.’

Would you consider working for an online private GP service if the terms were acceptable?

Yes, full-time – 4.08% (31)

Yes, part-time – 20.53% (156)

No – 63.16% (480)

I already do part-time – 0.66% (5)

I already do full-time – 0.92% (7)

Don’t know – 10.66% (81)

The survey was launched on 12 April 2018, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. The 28 questions asked covered a wide range of GP topics, to avoid selection bias on one issue. The survey was advertised to our readers via our website and email newsletter, with a prize draw for a Ninja Coffee Bar as an incentive to complete the survey. A total of 760 GPs responded to this question.