Giving evidence to the House of Commons health and social care committee on Tuesday, CQC chief inspector for general practice Professor Steve Field said the watchdog would be ‘looking at the surgeries that might be impacted’ by online providers.
His comments came after committee chair and former GP Dr Sarah Wollaston highlighted concerns that ‘rapidly emerging’ online consulting systems ‘like Babylon and GP at Hand’ may ‘have a destabilising effect on the wider system’.
Patients who register with GP at Hand - which has attracted more than 30,000 predominantly young patients over the past year - are required to quit their existing practice and sign up as out-of-area patients with the service’s host practice in south-west London.
The service limits registrations from patients likely to have complex needs, which has led to accusations of ‘cherry picking’ - and concern that the model could destabilise traditional practices, which rely on funding for younger patients to cover some of the cost of providing care for complex older patients.
Dr Wollaston asked Professor Field whether the CQC was ‘looking not just at that individual alternative model but [at] the effect it could have on those models around it’.
He replied: ‘The problem we have as the CQC is that we are an independent and strong regulator but we do not do the commissioning - [we] have no responsibility for the commissioning and the contracting.
‘So we are observers of services that perhaps have started recently in London. If you’re alluding to the impact on other patients there, so we can observe that and we will actually be looking at the surgeries that might be impacted and the quality of care that they provide.’
Despite a ‘high profile case at the moment which might be having an effect on patients in their locality’, Professor Field told MPs many other ‘under the radar’ systems offered ‘a brilliant service’ to patients.
On the whole, Professor Field said he was ‘optimistic’ about the emergence of online providers in general practice.
‘I support the introduction of these alternative methods of consulting because it could save time for clinicians and certainly will save time for patients who want to use those services,’ he said. ‘But they do have to be safe and effective just like traditional face-to-face consulting.’