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Health Secretary calls for GP app to be rolled out across the country

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The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, is calling for a remote GP service accessed through an app to be adopted by NHS Trusts across the country.

Matt Hancock, who was formerly Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports, has expressed an interest in expanding digital technologies across the NHS.

The app, which was developed by healthcare technology company GP At Hand, allows patients to book remote video consultations with GPs at any time, and guarantees a video consultation within two hours of booking. GP at Hand launched last year, and is operating in five physical locations in a partnership with a West-London-based GP surgery.

The service is provided for free if the user switches their NHS GP service to GP At Hand.

According to the Daily Telegraph, in a speech at Babylon Health’s London headquarters Hancock is to call for the service to be rolled out across the country.

“GP At Hand is revolutionary – it works brilliantly for so many patients and goes with the grain of how people access modern service,” he told the Telegraph. “I want to see GP At Hand available to all, not based on their postcode.

“Where a new service challenges the system, the right response isn’t to reject the new service but to change the system. The current postcode lottery cannot continue.”

The GP At Hand service has proved controversial, with Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, accusing it of “cherry-picking” the healthiest patients (which Babylon has denied), and for automatically re-registering users with a different GP practice and consequently removing some funding from their original practice.

Hancock commented in July that despite the concerns surrounding the service, the service should continue to be rolled out.

“Here is a new technology that has the potential to significantly improve the way that many patients can access the NHS. This sort of technology is coming, the question is how can we bring it about in a way that best supports the NHS as a whole and ensures that we get better care as a result?

“Where there are challenges you’ve got to make sure the rules are changed to take that into account. The wrong solution would be to say, ‘These new technologies have no place, they are disrupting things’.”

Plans to bring the scheme to Birmingham have recently been blocked on the grounds of clinical safety. In a letter, Paul Jennings, CEO of the NHS Birmingham and Solihull CCG, wrote the CCG was concerned that Babylon would be able to “integrate and work with the locally agreed pathways for services in an effective and safe manner”, and said that assurance was needed that the service could remain safe and effective around safeguarding, medicines management and in dealing with complex patients.

“This new digital offer, in effect, could potentially significantly destabilise a number of local practices if a large number of patients (particularly young adults) register with GP At Hand. This would have consequences on the wider population and the chronically sick who would need alternative care if a practice becomes unviable,” he wrote.

NHS England has upheld Jennings’ objection.

In June, claims from Babylon Health that its artificially intelligent chatbot performed “on par” with real GPs at providing patients with health advice were met with scepticism by doctors’ groups, including the Royal College of GPs.

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