GP at Hand should be available across England, says health secretary

GP at Hand should be available to all patients in England, the health and social care secretary has said - as GP leaders warned the move could 'significantly destabilise' general practice.

Smartphone consultation (Photo: iStock)
Smartphone consultation (Photo: iStock)

Ahead of a planned speech on Thursday at the headquarters of Babylon - the private company that provides the technology behind the controversial GP at Hand video consultation service - Matt Hancock called GP at Hand 'revolutionary'.

In comments made to to The Telegraph on Wednesday - confirmed to GPonline by the DHSC - Mr Hancock said: ‘GP at Hand is revolutionary - it works brilliantly for so many patients and goes with the grain of how people access modern services.

‘I want to see GP at Hand available to all, not based on their postcode. Where a new service challenges the system, the right response isn’t to reject the new service but to change the system. The current postcode lottery cannot continue.’

GP at Hand

But GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey warned that a nationwide rollout of GP at Hand could lead to ‘significant destabilisation’ of general practice.

The rollout of GP at Hand in London has left the CCG hosting the Fulham practice where patients register for the service facing an £18m funding shortfall - and other practices in and around London have lost funding as thousands of young patients switched to GP at Hand.

Dr Vautrey told GPonline that the BMA recognised the benefits smartphone consultations can offer, but said that there is ‘no need’ for a single private provider to monopolise the smartphone consultation market.

If GP at Hand were to be rolled out across the whole country, he warned: ‘You’re looking at a completely different model of funding for general practice and I don’t think NHS England is minded to do that, so I think they would be very concerned if there was a significant destabilisation in that way.'

GP-patient relationship

He described GP at Hand as ‘a very, very different model’, adding: ‘What we want is to build on what practices can do now and on the direct connections that practices have within their communities. It’s essential that we preserve that.’

Mr Hancock has been vocal in his support for GP at Hand since his first speech as health and social care secretary in July, when he said technology similar to Babylon’s should be ‘available to all’.

However, the service has proven controversial. In March, GP campaigners led a protest against GP at Hand to highlight concerns that it is cherry picking patients and undermining existing practices.

Hammersmith and Fulham CCG has also blocked a proposed expansion of the service to Birmingham.

Dr Vautrey said: ‘We support innovation and development, but this cannot come at the cost of basic, face-to-face, holistic care for patients who rely on their GP the most. Patients don’t want their local GP practice replaced by a remote anonymous call centre.

‘If this government is to truly revolutionise IT provision in the NHS, it must also invest in national infrastructure, such as rural broadband, on which both care providers and patients rely.’

GP at Hand and Babylon have said repeatedly that 'patients and GPs are flocking to GP at Hand because they recognise the potential that high quality, digital-first 24/7 NHS GP services bring'.

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