GP at Hand triples patient list as young patients flock to video consultation service

More than 10,000 patients aged 20-44 years old have joined a London GP practice in the two months since it began offering the GP at Hand video consultation service, official data confirm.

Smartphone GP service (Photo: iStock)
Smartphone GP service (Photo: iStock)

Figures from NHS Digital show that young patients are continuing to flock to the service, which offers people the chance to switch from their existing practice and register as out-of-area patients.

Patients registered with the service - which operates from the Lillie Road Medical Centre in west London - are offered the chance to book appointments through an app, and have a video consultation on their smartphone or computer 'typically in under two hours of booking'.

But GP leaders have hit out at the service for 'cherry picking' young patients, because unlike most NHS GP practices not all patients are considered eligible to sign up. Patients likely to have more complex needs can be refused the chance to register.

The latest data on patient registrations show that of the 11,147 patients who have signed up with the practice since it opened up GP at Hand to people outside its normal boundary, 10,051 are aged between 20 and 44 years old.

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The total number of patients in the 20-44 age range grew from 3,475 on 1 November 2017 to 13,526 on 1 January 2018 - taking the proportion of overall patients in that age range at the practice from 70% to 84%.

The practice's total list size rose from just 4,970 in November to 16,117 in January - a 224% increase. Just 56 patients aged over 60 years old have joined the practice in that time - 0.5% of the total additions to the practice list.

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey told GPonline in December that the sharp rise in young patients registering with the service confirmed concerns about cherry picking.

He warned it could 'destabilise other practices and indeed the CCG itself as the population they cover and are responsible for could change dramatically'. He added: 'It is also delivered by a private company that is primarily cherry picking younger, generally healthier people and excluding many others. It will do nothing to help the growing number of older, vulnerable patients who need well funded services that can provide the specialist care they need in the community.'

Babylon Health, which provides the technology behind the GP at Hand video consultation service says the service has a 95% approval rating. A spokesman said: 'GP at Hand is available to everyone, young or old, in good health or not. It is a digitally-led service and is clearly being welcomed by people comfortable with technology in their lives, with hundreds joining every day.

'These allegations from the BMA misunderstand the realities of life – people are choosing GP at Hand, not the other way round.'

A spokeswoman for NHS England London said: 'The popularity of GP at Hand among younger people is in keeping with what we have seen with other digital-first services. However, this is being closely monitored and any impact that this may have on other practices in the area will be picked up by the independent evaluation being undertaken by the CCG and NHS England London.

'Our intention is that all practices across London are digitally enabled and we are working with CCGs to progress this ambition in line with the GP Forward View.'

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