Health secretary wants 'loads of companies' to follow GP at Hand's example

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has said he wants 'loads of companies' to follow in the footsteps of the private provider behind the controversial GP at Hand service.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock

Speaking at the headquarters of Babylon - the company whose technology and London clinics have allowed GP at Hand to attract thousands of predominantly young NHS patients - Mr Hancock also said he wanted to change NHS rules so that services like GP at Hand can be better accommodated.

His comments on Thursday night followed earlier comments in which the health secretary - himself a patient registered with the video consultation service - said he wanted GP at Hand to be 'available to all, not based on their postcode’.

In comments reported by the HSJ, Mr Hancock praised NHS England for ‘making the system work so that this service has been able to expand [to] the point it has thus far’, adding that changes should be made so that ‘some new services can be accommodated and existing services are protected’.

NHS reform

‘We are in the process of that iteration right now,’ he said.

Babylon founder Ali Parsa told the event that the company would be spending around £76m on creating a service strategy to apply artificial intelligence (AI) to chronic disease management.

He said: ‘Today’s announcement isn’t about replacing experienced medical personnel with new technology, but rather using AI to enable front-line healthcare staff to work more accurately, effectively and efficiently in delivering better quality health outcomes for ever-increasing numbers of patients around the world.’

Mr Hancock added: ‘With the NHS we have one of the greatest assets we could possibly have to bring forward more cutting-edge improvements and developments than we have ever seen before.

‘We’ve got amazing universities, we’ve got an amazing private health tech start-up ecosystem and we have an amazing healthcare system in the NHS. The three of those, supported by government, are going to work together to harness the very best technology on the planet, the very best minds on the planet, the very best clinicians on the planet to serve our people but also to build this country into the best health tech nation on earth.’

NHS tech

The health and social care secretary has also recently pledged ‘upfront investment’ to help GPs adopt new technology.

Health and social care select committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston raised concerns via Twitter about the apparent endorsement of GP at Hand by the government.

She urged NHS England to 'hold firm and insist on proper evaluation of unintended consequences as well as any benefits of services like GP at Hand before further roll-out', adding that there was a 'risk of further destabilising already fragile services'.

GPonline reported on Thursday that GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey had warned that rolling out GP at Hand across England risked destabilising general practice. The west London CCG that hosts the service is facing a funding shortfall of around £18m following the surge in patients registering with GP at Hand under out-of-area patient regulations.

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