Virtual GP service raises concerns about ‘cherry picking’ of patients

Smartphone app promises users a video consultation within two hours, but many conditions are ineligible.

Smartphone app promises users a video consultation within two hours, but many conditions are ineligible.

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Leading medics have raised concerns over the first NHS smartphone virtual GP service.

Millions of NHS patients who live or work in various locations in London can sign up to the service, which offers a GP consultation via a smartphone 24 hours a day.

But the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) said that, while the scheme may be ideal for some patients, others are not eligible for the service.

The GP at Hand service, which was created with healthcare technology firm Babylon Health, offers a booking system through a smartphone app with the promise of a video consultation within two hours of booking.

Patients who need face-to-face appointments must travel to clinics in commuter hubs.

Commenting on the launch of the project, RCGP chair Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘Technology can achieve wonderful things when used properly, but we are worried that schemes like this are creating a twin-track approach to NHS general practice and that patients are being “cherry-picked”, which could increase pressure on traditional GPs based in the community.

‘We understand that, with increasing waiting times to see GPs, an online service is convenient and appealing, but older patients and those with more complex needs want continuity of care and the security of a local practice where their GPs know them.’

Staff shortages

Ms Stokes-Lampard highlighted the number of ineligible conditions, including frailty, pregnancy and mental health issues, and added that the service was ‘undoubtedly luring GPs’ away from frontline general practice at a time of severe staff shortages and immense workloads.

GP at Hand partner Mobasher Butt said: ‘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 any time and from anywhere, and doesn’t cost the NHS a penny more. It’s a win win.’

The British Medical Association expressed concerns that the service is being delivered by a private company that is ‘primarily cherry-picking younger, generally healthier people and excluding many others’.

GP at Hand partner Matt Noble dismissed the claims as ‘simply untrue’.

‘This service is open to anyone within the eligibility area. From our pilots of the service in Essex and West London we have seen a broad range of patients benefit from being able to see GPs quickly and at their convenience, including elderly patients who find it difficult to get to surgeries,’ he said.

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