Technology like Babylon's GP at Hand should be available to all, says health secretary

The NHS should harness new technology like Babylon's GP at Hand app, and make it available to everyone, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has said in his first speech since taking up the post.

New health and social care secretary Matt Hancock (Photo: Chris McAndrew)

Speaking at West Suffolk hospital today, Mr Hancock announced plans for a 'tech transformation' across the NHS. He said the government would invest £487m in developing ‘revolutionary’ technologies, however much of this funding appeared to be earmarked for technology in hospitals.

Mr Hancock said: ‘I came from a tech background before I went into politics, and I love using modern technology myself. Not only do I have my own app for communicating with my constituents here in West Suffolk, but as you may have heard I use an app for my GP.

‘The discussion around my use of a Babylon NHS GP, which works brilliantly for me, has been instructive.'

'Some people have complained that the rules don’t work for care provided in this revolutionary new way. Others have said the algorithms sometimes throw up errors,' he added.

‘Emphatically the way forward is not to curb the technology – it’s to keep improving it and – only if we need to – change the rules so we can harness new technology in a way that works for everyone: patient and practitioner. I want to see more technology like this available to all, not just a select few in a few areas of the country.’

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This comes just days after two CCGs objected to GP at Hand's plans to expand to a site in Birmingham because of concerns about patient safety.

Patients who register with GP at Hand are required to quit their existing practice and sign up as out-of-area patients with the practice in south west London that hosts the service. The service restricts registrations from patients likely to have complex needs, such as pregnant women or those with some long-term conditions, leading to accusations of cherry-picking from GPs and concern that the model could financially destabilise traditional practices.

Technological innovation

Mr Hancock also said that workforce was a top priority in his speech. He said: ‘GPs need more assistance to tackle their substantial workloads. There is currently a review of GP partnerships ongoing but I also want to see more training to those pharmacists based in GP surgeries and more staff to support them.’

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: 'Technology has huge potential to support doctors in delivering the best possible care to patients and to support patients who are trying to self-care. It is excellent when used wisely but it can never be a substitute for GPs who are highly trained medical professionals who can consider all elements of our patients' lives.

'It is encouraging that the new secretary of state seems to have recognised the need to invest in primary care and the prevention of disease. We would have liked more explicit emphasis on Mr Hancock's plans for increasing the number of 'real' GPs providing frontline care to patients. We are currently at least 6,000 GPs short – almost one per practice in England – yet today alone over 1m patients will visit their GP surgeries.'

BMA representative body chair Dr Anthea Mowat, said: ‘It is welcome that the new secretary of state recognises the need for investment to make much needed improvements to patient care and to address the serious staffing issues the NHS is facing.

‘Whilst the BMA welcomes technological innovation to advance the delivery of patient care, it is by no means a replacement for face to face care from trained and dedicated staff and the government must prioritise addressing the workforce crisis by providing the adequate resources to fill the widespread staff shortages.’

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