MP calls for GP at Hand to be suspended pending further reviews


GP at Hand’s current operation and planned expansion to Birmingham should be “suspended” until the NHS has a better understanding of how digital services will impact primary care, an MP has said.

Andy Slaughter, the MP for Hammersmith, has exclusively told Digital Health News that the Government needs to “review how they want digital to go forward in the NHS” and warned the Government’s support of Babylon risked “privatising the NHS”.

GP at Hand, which is powered by Babylon Health, has its primary practice in Lille Road in Hammersmith and Fulham.

Speaking to Digital Health News, Slaughter said he was not opposed to digital services, or specifically to GP at Hand, but that a greater understanding of their impact was needed before they’re used.

“We are rushing into this particular model and organisation without really having tested it,” he said.

“I would rather have seen the kind of evaluations we are seeing now have happened before GP at Hand signed up 50,000 patients and, of course, the £26 million deficit at my local CCG.

“I would like to see them [the Government] suspending the way that GP at Hand is operating and certainly suspending any expansion.

“How primary care, and indeed other services as well, go digital is something the NHS has not been focused on and is now perhaps playing catchup, but that doesn’t mean that it can outsource that to an individual private company.”

Slaughter also raised concerns that the NHS’ support of Babylon risked privatising the health service.

Speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions last week he said: “Given the health secretary is Babylon’s biggest cheerleader, why should my constituents trust this Government to keep the NHS public anymore than they would trust Donald Trump.

“Even if NHS England funds £21 million of the shortfall for this year, this is still money from the public purse and it does not address the past cost to Hammersmith and Fulham of at least £12 million or any future costs.

“So will the Government suspend the Babylon contract while there is a proper investigation into this privatisation of the NHS?”

Hammersmith and Fulham CCG is currently consulting on closing the urgent care centre at Hammersmith Hospital overnight and reducing the number of GP ‘hubs’ that allow patients to see a GP in evenings and weekends.

Mr Slaughter said “cuckoo in the nest” GP at Hand was adding further strain to already stretched local services.

A spokeswoman for Babylon, which powers GP at Hand, said the company is providing the NHS with a “new model for primary care”.

“The value our service brings to patients has been shown by two separate independent reports – the recent Ipsos Mori report commissioned by the NHS and our latest CQC report. Not only this, but both reports highlight that our service is well-led with GPs who ‘were highly satisfied working for Babylon’and compared it favourably to working elsewhere, suggesting a sustainable and robust service,” she told Digital Health.

“NHS England want to see greater uptake of digital-first primary care – which we completely support. The NHS wants practices to make it easier for patients to get advice from health professionals, book appointments online and make better use of digital consultations.

“By combining these digital services with top-quality traditional care, we believe Babylon GP at Hand is providing the NHS with a new model for primary care which improves outcomes for patients and reduces pressure on GPs.”

The NHS gets “excellent value for money” from GP at Hand, she added, saying the practice receives less than two thirds of the national average income per patient.

She also said any funding issues with the CCG have been “resolved” as the NHS has “called for funding models to support digital-first healthcare services”.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Funding is provided to CCGs and GP practices based on the number of patients and complexity of their conditions – and the allocation made to Hammersmith and Fulham CCG has been increased for 2019/20 to reflect its increased patient lists.

“The Health Secretary regularly champions a range of technologies which can benefit patients, clinicians and carers.”

Mr Slaughter has previously written to Dr Sarah Wollaston, chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, calling for an inquiry into GP at Hand due to “serious concerns” about the app, including distorting GP funding as everyone who signs up for the service is automatically registered to the practice in west London and de-registered from their original GP.

In his letter to Wollaston, which he posted on Twitter, Slaughter also suggests that Hammmersmith and Fulham CCG was facing potential additional costs of more than £20million in order to continue funding Babylon’s GP at Hand practice, which is double figures reported in March 2018.

The long-awaited independent Ipsos Mori evaluation into GP at Hand was published last month, but was “not able to fully address” whether the service is affordable or sustainable.

It said policy makers should consider a new funding model for Babylon’s GP at Hand as current models may not be “appropriate”.

In January 2018, Digital Health News reported NHS England had lodged the objection to plans for a significant further roll-out of Babylon Healthcare’s GP at Hand. These plans were first revealed in a clinical review of the service by Hammersmith and Fulham CCG.

The review added that the GP at Hand service has not been “formally evaluated”, which could result in “unintended consequences”, but added the “innovative” service would be “potentially transformative”.

Hammersmith and Fulham CCG and NHS England were contacted for comment.

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