'Practices at risk' as GP at Hand report delayed for third time

A long-awaited report to evaluate the impact of Babylon GP at Hand on patients, the primary care workforce and the wider healthcare system has been delayed for a third time - prompting BMA warnings that practices are being undermined.

Smartphone consultation (Photo: Karl Tapales/Getty Images)
Smartphone consultation (Photo: Karl Tapales/Getty Images)

Ipsos Mori’s evaluation of the west London-based service, which offers consultations predominantly via video calls - was originally due to be published in March, but was delayed until 14 May because researchers had been unable to secure access to 'necessary datasets'.

A second postponement saw the report’s publication pushed back to 21 May, when it was due to be presented to Hammersmith and Fulham CCG’s primary care commissioning committee.

And a spokesperson for the CCG - which hosts the controversial digital-first provider - has now confirmed that the report will face further delays as it is ‘not ready’ and ‘still being finalised’.

The CCG has not set another date for publication, instead saying the evaluation will be made available ‘as soon as possible’.

'Irresponsible'

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey criticised the latest delay, warning that it increased the risk that other practices would be damaged. ‘Practices and patients in London and beyond deserve better,’ he told GPonline.

‘The continued delays in not only completing the review but also in taking action to address the many widely held concerns about this service will make it more likely that other existing practices will be undermined as a result.’

The delay comes just weeks after some of London’s top GPs told GPonline that reports assessing the safety and impact of the controversial digital provider had not emerged quickly enough.

Dr Seth Dassanayake - who chairs the LMC in Hammersmith and Fulham, where GP at Hand is based - has described delays to Ipsos Mori’s impact assessment and the long wait for an up-to-date CQC rating for the service as ‘irresponsible’.

‘I don’t think there’s enough documentation in public circulation [showing] that these systems are safe and working well,’ he said last month - adding that he was ‘uncomfortable’ about the level of information to support the video consultation service and saying he would like to see more.

Londonwide LMCs chief executive Dr Michelle Drage has also hit out over the delays: ‘There is an urgent need for robust and independent evidence on the clinical effectiveness of this technology and the absence of that from the pending independent evaluation is disappointing. Any proprietary technology which exists to financially benefit a commercial company should have independent, peer reviewed research funded by that company. The NHS should not be left to pick up the bill.’

GP at Hand

Hammersmith and Fulham CCG has not revealed the reason for the latest delay, but an interim report published in December said researchers had found it difficult to evaluate the system-level cost of GP at Hand because negotiations over access to ‘necessary datasets’ were ongoing.

The interim report also stated that the cost-effectiveness of GP at Hand was difficult to assess because of the predominantly young, healthy patient population that has joined the service.

More than 51,000 patients have now signed up with GP at Hand - 85% of whom are aged between 20 and 39 years old. Babylon GP at Hand has denied claims of 'cherry picking' younger patients.

A Babylon spokesperson has previously told GPonline that the company ‘welcomes scrutiny’ and was ‘looking forward’ to the publication of Ipsos Mori’s report ‘as we believe the evidence in it will support the work we are doing’.

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