'Disappointing' that NHS needed outsiders to shake up tech approach, says Goldacre

Babylon GP at Hand's video consultation model is among the 'most interesting challenges' to the NHS status quo, a government health tech advisor has said.

Dr Ben Goldacre (Photo: David Levenson/Getty Images)
Dr Ben Goldacre (Photo: David Levenson/Getty Images)

Dr Ben Goldacre, appointed last year by health and social care secretary Matt Hancock to chair a health tech advisory board, praised Babylon for moving away from the ‘rather staid model we have of presenting information to patients and professionals’ in the NHS.

Speaking at the Londonwide LMCs conference this week he described the company’s video consultation service GP at Hand as ‘one of the most interesting challenges to our way of working’.

But Dr Goldacre said it was ‘disappointing’ that a private company had had to lead digital innovation within the NHS - arguing ‘we have not done enough at the coalface… to support that kind of work’. He said: 'I think it is really interesting and quite a disappointing story about academia and also the NHS that it has taken an external company to do the basics well with digital.'

GP at Hand

GPs at the Londonwide LMCs conference also spoke out against the digital first provider. Tower Hamlets LMC chair Dr Jackie Applebee argued that GP at Hand ‘undermines and potentially destabilises our surgeries, threatening services which we offer to all our patients - particularly the more complex'.

She also wanted to see more evidence to support the GP at Hand model - a report commissioned by London NHS leaders has yet to be published, and the CQC has yet to publish a rating for the service that incorporates its digital element.

‘New innovation must be evidence based,’ she told the Londonwide LMCs conference, warning that if new models were adopted without sufficient evidence, there may be unintended consequences.

She added: ‘Sometimes we do just have to wait. You can’t get a drug onto the market without proper evidence, you can’t have a surgical procedure on the market without proper evidence.’

GP burnout

Another GP in the audience said that, although it was ‘great’ that technology had the potential to ‘make consultations quicker’, the resulting increase in sessions could end up fueling GP burnout.

‘What is tiring is the paying attention and making decisions,’ she said. ‘So if I end up seeing more patients because each [consultation] is shorter, then I’ve made more decisions and I’m going to be more tired. Decision fatigue I think is something we forget about and it is important.’

Babylon chief medical officer, GP Dr Mobasher Butt said: ‘This health service is under an enormous amount of stress. We don’t have enough resources, we don’t have enough people so it’s not about replacing GPs but it's really about leveraging the very best technology such as AI as one of those applications and trying to remove the unnecessary burden that we currently face.’

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