Private online GP services removed from NHS Apps Library

Two private online GP services have been removed from the NHS Apps Library, after GPonline highlighted concerns about their inclusion on the website.

The apps for Now GP and Babylon have both been taken off the site, which was set up by NHS England and NHS Digital last year to help patients find digital tools that help them to manage and improve their health.

GPonline reported last month that the website was promoting the apps, both of which charge patients for accessing GP appointments remotely. GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said at the time that the library was ‘fundamentally flawed’ if it was directing patients to private providers.

The apps had passed a technical assessment focused on data security and safety in order to appear on the site.

The NHS Apps Library is currently a beta site, which means it is an early version that is still being tested. NHS England said that the apps had been removed as part of this beta testing phase. A third app, PHE Sugar Smart, has also been removed from the site.

Juliet Bauer, chief digital officer at NHS England, said: 'The NHS Apps Library is in beta or a public testing phase, and will continue to evolve accordingly as with any other project in development. When the NHS Apps Library goes live it will provide the public with a trusted location where they will be able to find health apps that have met NHS standards.'

Dr Vautrey said: ‘NHS England has done the right thing by removing these apps from their library. It's important that the public and patients can be confident that NHS-recommended services are just that - NHS services. There has been a rapid expansion of digital services in recent months and it's going to be increasingly important for national bodies to monitor and assess them.’

Online GP services

Lee Dentith, CEO and founder of Now Healthcare Group said: ‘The Now Healthcare Group has a number of GP consultation and tele-pharmacy apps, both free and paid for. These have all been created to help alleviate the pressures on our GP practices and the NHS as it struggles with funding.

‘We were the first digital health company to receive the CQC (five stars) and our pharmacy is NHS-approved.’

The company is exploring whether its new free app, Now Patient, which is aimed at those with long-term conditions, could be included on the NHS Apps Library.

A spokesman for Babylon said: ‘Babylon supports the aims of the NHS digital apps library. Following a recent NHS assessment process, our app was in the very first group to appear in the library. As the focus of the NHS Apps Library changes over time, so the mix of apps that appears on it will evolve as well.

‘Unlike companies who choose only to provide their health service privately to those who can afford it, Babylon’s technology and GPs are available through the NHS to all - free at the point-of-need, via GP at Hand and NHS Online. In providing a safe, high quality, convenient and tech-enabled service to people who choose us, Babylon helps reduce the pressures on hard-pressed NHS staff.'

A recent study in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine looking at the impact of private online video consulting services found that there was little evidence that video consultations by GPs are safe, effective or improve access for patients and said that they could lead to increased rates of antibiotic prescribing.

GPs have become increasingly concerned about private online GP services after Babylon partnered with west London GP practice the Lillie Road Health Centre to launch GP at Hand.

GP at Hand enables NHS patients living or working in zones 1-3 in London to switch from their existing practice and register with the service. Once registered, GP at Hand offers patients 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'. There are plans to expand the service around the UK.

The service has sparked fears of ‘cherry-picking’ because certain patients, such as older people with frailty, people with dementia, those with learning difficulties or complex mental health issues and pregnant women, are unable to register. GP leaders have raised concerns that this could create a two-tier NHS and undermine existing practices.

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