It proves that problems with the NHS are not due to public sector inefficiency, says Sofia Lind
Babylon’s decision is based on the venture not being ‘financially viable’, with the private company having decided to ‘wind down’ a number of NHS contracts that were not profitable.
And it follows a warning from CEO Ali Parsa in May that Babylon needs to be ‘super careful’ about expanding its NHS GP services – as it loses money on every patient.
When Babylon first launched its NHS GP offering, GP leaders feared GP at Hand would cherry-pick young and healthy patients who typically utilise services less, based on them being the most IT literate.
However, Babylon learned that even in this cohort, patients over-utilise the service relative to the expectations of the UK Government – 6-7 annual consultations as opposed to a funded 2-3, according to Mr Parsa.
Babylon’s Birmingham exit proves what any experienced NHS GP could have told them – that increasing access simply taps into an insatiable demand for healthcare.
Birmingham LMC chair Dr Gavin Ralston said that ‘the fact it hasn’t worked’, following warnings from GP leaders, ‘is a feather in the cap for general practice’.
That is true – only a Herculean effort is what is keeping GP services running in the NHS at present, and Birmingham practices will need to emulate this to absorb another 5,000 patients onto their books.
It is also proof that the problems with the NHS are not due to public sector inefficiency, and the private sector can’t waltz in and show how it should be done.
General practice, along with the rest of the health service, has structural problems that can’t be solved with smart widgets and shiny suits.
Babylon’s exit emphasises that what sustains general practice at present is hearts and souls, not bells and whistles.
Sofia Lind is deputy editor of Pulse. Follow her on twitter at @sofialind_Pulse or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org