Babylon accounts cast doubt on future of GP at Hand

NHS GP services for more than 100,000 patients registered with the controversial GP at Hand service could be at risk amid doubts over the finances behind provider Babylon Healthcare.

GP at Hand operates digital first model (Photo: Anita Kot/Getty Images)

Babylon Healthcare, the company behind the GP At Hand service, needs continuing injections of cash from parent company Babylon Holdings.

However, annual accounts for Babylon Healthcare published this month reveal doubts about whether Babylon Holdings is a going concern - and said there was 'no certainty' that it 'will be able to provide the financial support which [Babylon Healthcare's] forecasts indicate is required'.

In its annual report Babylon Healthcare reported net assets of £3.5m, £1.3m in profit and operating cash outflows of £332,000 as at 31 December 2021.

GP at Hand

But the report said that 'the majority of the company’s assets relate to amounts due' from its parent company and that Babylon Healthcare is 'reliant on financial support from its immediate parent company, Babylon Holdings Limited'. It said Babylon Holdings needs 'injections of further investment capital' and believes it will be able to raise this - but that there is 'no assurance' this will be possible.

As a result, the report said there were doubts over the financial support available to Babylon Healthcare that represent 'a material uncertainty that may cast significant doubt on the company’s ability to continue as a going concern and therefore to continue realising their assets and discharging their liabilities in the normal course of business'.

In May, Babylon Healthcare chief executive Ali Parsa said that although the company was 'overwhelmed with demand' for GP services in the UK it lost money for every member it gained. 

He said the company 'used to lose a lot of money' per patient but now it was 'a little money'. He added: 'We need to be in today's environment super careful about the speed at which we grow.'

NHS patients

The GP at Hand service is controversial in the profession with fears that it is part of a slippery slope towards NHS privatisation.

Last year GP at Hand became the first NHS GP service to register more than 100,000 patients. The service has been accused of 'cherry-picking' patients - a charge it denies - because its patient list is different from the population of England as a whole, and substantially skewed towards younger patients - with around 85% of its list aged between 20 and 39 years of age.

Londonwide LMCs chief executive Dr Michelle Drage said commercial providers often claimed to provide economies of scale but leave NHS general practice as they struggle to balance the books.

'The long-established and proven partnership model of community-based GPs remains the best for patient care and offers the greatest value to taxpayers,’ Dr Drage said.

But she added: ‘Despite the efficiencies they achieve, partnerships are making up the gap between resourcing and demand using the goodwill of their practice teams. This creates pressures on recruitment and retention that means there needs to be urgent action to bolster the core GP contract or this model will become unsustainable like so many commercially driven ones already are.’ 

Babylon Healthcare was contacted for comment.

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