Exclusive: GP at Hand provider condemns bid to block wider rollout

NHS organisations in north London are attempting to block the rollout of the controversial GP at Hand service into their patch, the company behind the service believes.

GP at Hand: smartphone consultations (Photo: iStock)
GP at Hand: smartphone consultations (Photo: iStock)

The providers of GP at Hand are bidding to secure space at four NHS-owned premises across north and east London, to allow them to extend their service to a wider group of patients.

The service has attracted more than 14,000 new patients in just three months to the south-west London GP practice it operates through - the Lillie Road Medical Centre - almost quadrupling its list size. The vast majority of patients signing up for the scheme are young - GPonline reported today that around 12,000 of the new registrations are aged between 20 and 39 years old.

But Babylon, the company that provides the technology behind GP at Hand, has hit out at attempts to prevent it from opening new centres that could expand its reach and allow the service to try to recruit patients across a far broader geographical area within London.

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How does the GP at Hand service work?

GP at Hand has applied for permission via the Hammersmith and Fulham CCG - which holds the contract for the Lillie Road practice - to subcontract its service to four new sites, in Enfield, Islington, Hackney and Barnet, which currently have vacant space.

The service currently offers face-to-face appointments at five locations in London in total - the Lillie Road surgery plus four others. Patients are able to register if they live within a 35-40 minute journey of one of these sites, or if they work in zones 1-3 in London.

Widening its reach across a further four locations could see the service maintain the rapid increase in new registrations seen over the past three months.

However, GPonline has learned that ahead of a 13 February meeting to consider the application to widen the service, a senior NHS official representing north London CCGs warned premises providers against allowing NHS Property Services (NHSPS) or Community Health Partnerships (CHP) buildings to be used to host GP at Hand.

GP at Hand rollout

In an email seen by this website, North Central London CCGs chief financial officer Simon Goodwin wrote: 'We do not in any circumstances want CHP or NHSPS space let to this organisation, so please cease any discussions underway with GP at Hand.'

Babylon said it believed the expansion of GP at Hand was being blocked by 'vested interests'.

Dr Mobasher Butt, a partner in the GP at Hand service, said attempts to block the expansion of the service revealed 'the dark side of  local bureaucracy'.

He said: 'Vested interests in the CCGs of North Central London are using their non-elected positions to undermine people’s access to convenient, high quality NHS care. Taxpayers' money is being used to keep NHS clinics empty, protecting the interests of the few against the will of tens of thousands of Londoners who have already joined GP at Hand. Hundreds of NHS GPs stand ready to serve anyone who chooses this modern, fully-NHS service.'

GP leaders have repeatedly warned that GP at Hand risks destabilising existing GP services by cherry picking young patients and leaving other practices with an increasingly complex elderly population, while depriving them of funding from thousands of young patients.

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