'Amazing' GP at Hand has made NHS look foolish, says RCGP chair

The NHS has been left looking foolish because it has failed to keep up with 'phenomenal' technology such as the GP at Hand system, the RCGP chair has said.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard (Photo: Pete Hill)
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard (Photo: Pete Hill)

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said that health leaders had ‘a lot to learn’ from the model developed by private provider Babylon - which is behind the GP at Hand service - adding that a failure to bring NHS technology up to date could cause patients to go elsewhere for treatment.

‘We cannot put our heads in the sand about what our patients want and need, about the inadequacy of the IT systems we’re currently working with [or] about the amazing potential that is out there. I want every one of my patients to see and feel an NHS that is technologically at least up to date,’ she said.

‘Let’s have tech that works and use innovative ways of consulting. Because the reality is we’re looking foolish and people are looking for alternatives. The rise of the private GP health sector is not a coincidence  - it’s an inevitable consequence of the NHS not keeping up.’

GP at Hand

Specifically referencing GP at Hand, Professor Stokes-Lampard described the controversial video consultation service as ‘an amazing model’ despite being ‘disruptive innovation at its most disruptive’ - and suggested that the way in which practices are paid also needs to be changed to stop such out-of-area schemes from ‘cherry picking’ patients and destabilising GP surgeries.

‘There is a lot we have to learn from it,’ she told a King's Fund conference in London, concluding that the NHS had two options in the way it responded to Babylon’s ‘phenomenal’ technology and business model.

‘[We] have to totally adopt that technology right throughout the NHS for everybody so it destroys [Babylon’s] business model and it is normal across the whole of general practice - tech tsunami stuff. Or we have to tear up the financial model by which we pay [practices]. And one of those things has to happen fast. I would suggest we need to do both.’

Disruptive innovation

Official data shows that more than 30,000 patients have registered with GP at Hand after more than 3,000 signed up in the month to 1 June.

Also speaking at the King’s Fund, CQC chief inspector of general practice Professor Steve Field said: 'The disruptive innovation isn’t GP at Hand or online consulting because that’s really just a different modality for what we do already.’ He argued that the more significant disruption was around implications for 'the financial contracting model in general practice'.

‘I think Helen’s assertion about the cherry picking is the right one,' he said. 'In the current model it disrupts other practices that are trying to provide care for a broad population and we need to look at the contracting system. But the reality is that this is already in other practices. There are 30+ providers of this privately in different ways and it’s going to be here, we need to embrace it, but we do look at how it’s funded and will continue to regulate.’

Earlier this year campaigners urged health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt to pull the plug on GP at Hand, describing the model as ‘ill conceived’.

GPonline revealed this week that market research firm Ipsos Mori will be carrying out a £250,000 investigation into the impact of GP at Hand, including its long-term implications for the sustainability of traditional general practice.

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