LMCs demand judicial review over smartphone GP service

GP leaders have demanded a judicial review into an NHS service accused of 'cherry-picking' patients suitable to quit their existing practice and receive video consultations via smartphones.

The rollout across London earlier this week of the GP at Hand service prompted an angry response from both the RCGP and BMA, who warned the move risked undermining existing services.

Under the new service, patients in London - and the service will soon extend across the country - are being invited to switch from their existing GP practices. GP at Hand is offering patients video consultations via smartphones or computers 'typically in under two hours of booking' and face-to-face appointments at 'convenient city-centre locations' within 48 hours.

Although NHS rules bar traditional GP practices from refusing to register patients based on factors including their age, disabilities or medical conditions, the GP at Hand service will be able to reject patients with a variety of complex needs.

Read more: How does GP at Hand work?

A motion debated at the England LMCs conference in London on Friday slammed the use of public funding 'to promote inequitable access to NHS branded services'.

It called on the GPC to negotiate compensation for practices whose patients are enticed away from them by the new service, and demanded a judicial review to challenge the decision to allow its rollout.

Derbyshire LMC's Dr Susie Bayley warned: 'A service that favours the well above the ill is morally questionable. This will lead to huge inequity.'

She said it was unacceptable that GP Forward View funding should be used to commission a service that discriminated against patients with the greatest health needs.

She warned that practices that lost patients to the new service would be left with 'huge financial losses while caring for the most complex patients'.

Cherry picking patients

Dr Bayley hit out at NHS England's decision to allow the service to be rolled out. She warned: 'NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens says if general practice fails, the whole NHS fails. Well Mr Stevens, by commissioning a cherry-picking service you are deliberately failing general practice.'

Launching the smartphone service earlier this week GP at Hand partner Dr. Mobasher Butt said: 'We do everything from grocery shopping to our banking online yet when it comes to our health, it can still take weeks to see a doctor and often means taking time off work for an appointment.

'With the NHS making use of this technology, we can put patients in front of a GP within minutes on their phone, so the days of ringing frantically at 8am for an appointment should be long gone. This new NHS service makes it easier for patients to see a doctor quickly at anytime and from anywhere and doesn’t cost the NHS a penny more. It’s a win win.'

NHS England also defended the service this week. A spokeswoman said: 'This particular GP practice has developed this patient offer which is included as part of their existing standard GMS service for their registered patients. The practice is subject to all the data protection and information security rules applicable to any NHS practice.'

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