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Babylon exit shows NHS general practice is no easy picking

Babylon exit shows NHS general practice is no easy picking

It proves that problems with the NHS are not due to public sector inefficiency, says Sofia Lind

Birmingham is set to lose digital-first provider Babylon GP at Hand, affecting 5,000 patients who will have to reregister with local GP practices. 

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



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Neil Vass 5 October, 2022 7:53 pm

I work occasionally in A&E, Babylon use us as their examination service. Interesting that they cant make it work even when off loading the face to face care.

David Turner 6 October, 2022 1:54 pm

The private sector has only one goal, aim and priority: £££

Why does anybody ever think they would care about patients?
Patients are just a money making commodity for them and if no longer making them money they are no longer of any use.

Patrufini Duffy 11 October, 2022 1:37 pm

Here’s some antibiotics and an inhaler.
Go see your GP for an examination.
Nice SOP permitted by NHSE and GOVuk/usa. Zero CQC monitoring of antibiotic stewardship or notes.
Mates rates contracts.

Dave Haddock 12 October, 2022 8:54 am

GP is the one bit of the NHS that is “private sector”; GPs are independent contractors, small businesses, privately run, profit making enterprises.

David Church 8 August, 2023 12:23 pm

Dave Haddock : you would be hard-pressed to find an ordinary medium sized ‘small business’ GP surgery that is making any significant profit. Many Partners get pay rates after expenses much less than the hospital equivalent salary, or the locum or salaried doctors’ pay rates per hour (inclusie of study-time). That is perhaps why here is such a shortage of Partner-applicants?
There may be a very few GPs taking massive profits from very big practices with unusual (and probably quite inequitable) set-ups, but very very few.
Also, look how impossible it is for ‘directly managed’ practices to make any profit for health boards and CCGs – indeed, most of them have completely blown their budgets!

David jenkins 8 August, 2023 1:21 pm

David Church

the reason directly (mis)managed practices make no money is that the management cost of running them is twice as much per patient ! this is what happens when the LHB run the shop.

a camel is a horse, designed by a committee !!

p.s there are several in my locality – all badly run, with staff issues……………caused by the LHB !!