GP at Hand to register thousands of Birmingham patients this summer

Babylon GP at Hand could recruit up to 2,600 patients from the Birmingham and Solihull area within the next three months - and could be handed the green light for unlimited expansion later this year.

Smartphone consultation (Photo: Westend61/Getty Images)
Smartphone consultation (Photo: Westend61/Getty Images)

The controversial digital-first service now has a registered list of 54,700 NHS patients - more than 10 times the number it had in November 2017 when it was made available to anyone who lives or works within 40 minutes of one of the service's five London clinics.

GP at Hand was granted permission earlier this year to expand to Birmingham and has leased premises from a GP out-of-hours provider, but has yet to open applications or begin recruiting patients in the city.

However, documents published this week by Hammersmith and Fulham CCG - which hosts the video consultation service - confirm that 'assurance for the commencement of the provision of services' from Birmingham by GP at Hand has been agreed.

GP at Hand expansion

The service can now begin operating from Birmingham, initially with restrictions on patient numbers and the geographical area from which patients can be recruited.

Patients who live outside the Birmingham City Council and Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council boundaries will not be eligible at this stage, and the number of patients that can be recruited from this area will be capped at 2,600 for the first three months.

However, a review will be carried out after eight weeks 'to assess whether the restrictions on geography and the list size limit could be withdrawn'. The service will also be required to set up a 'robust automated solution' to improve screening, after a recent CQC report found it 'was not currently meeting the cervical screening and childhood immunisation targets'.

A Babylon spokesperson said: 'We are very happy to have agreed some sensible steps with Hammersmith and Fulham CCG to ensure that Birmingham patients will have a great service, and all parties can have confidence this process will be done responsibly.'

Online consultations

The rapid growth of GP at Hand in London has been driven in part by advertising campaigns, with its key feature the offer of rapid online access to a GP - more than 85% of its consultations are delivered remotely, via smartphone or computer.

Babylon GP at Hand describes itself as a 'full NHS GP practice, with no restrictions on which groups of patients can register', and denies claims that it has 'cherry-picked' younger patients.

However, patients attracted to the service have been predominantly young - with 85% of people signed up with the service now aged between 20 and 39 years old. Across the registered patient population of England as a whole, just 28% of patients are aged in this range.

GP leaders said earlier this year that the decision to allow GP at Hand to expand to Birmingham was 'premature and disappointing'. A major independent report commissioned by Hammersmith and Fulham CCG found earlier this year that the service may be unsustainable if rolled out across a wider population.

It also found that GP at Hand had attracted predominantly young, wealthy patients who use NHS services with above-average frequency despite being healthier than the average for their age.

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