Chants of ‘GP at Hand should be banned’ could be heard in the streets of east London today as a group of patients, GPs and NHS staff protested against the service.
Protesters accused the online service of draining resources from NHS practices and held up banners reading ‘GP at Hand should be banned’ and ‘GP at Hand not on my land’ while there were also similar chants against privatisation of the NHS.
The NHS commissioned online service, which is powered by Babylon, promises to cut GP waiting times by allowing patients to book appointments and talk to their doctor through their smartphone within minutes.
It also claims patients can get a same or next day face-to-face appointment if needed at five clinics around London.
A group of around 20 gathered opposite Newby Place Health Centre, near Poplar, east London, which is one of these clinics, on Thursday to voice their concerns.
Tower Hamlets Local Medical Committee (LMC) chair and Bow GP, Dr Jackie Applebee, explained how GP at Hand’s business model is already causing problems for GPs across London.
“Surgeries like my own are now getting lots of calls from angry former patients, who didn’t realise that by using GP at Hand they were deregistering from their usual surgery,” she said.
“Some are insisting on re-registering, causing a lot of extra work for our staff.”
Dr Applebee also accused the service of cherry-picking younger, healthier patients, and it is taking resources from local NHS general practices that offer long-term care to all.
She said: “Sick patients inevitably use more of the available funding and resources, but the system is fair because we all eventually end up in the group that’s sick.
“But now that thousands of young Londoners are signing up with GP at Hand, they are taking NHS money away from GP surgeries who need it to take care of the old and sick. This is bad news for everyone – except GP at Hand.”
Another protester told Digital Health News that the demonstration was not against technology being used by GPs but it is vital that it is safe for patients and there was a number of references to the CQC’s report which revealed 43% of online consultation providers are not deemed to be safe.
Digital Health News also recently reported how the number of patients registered with the service has leaped from 2,500 in April 2017 to 24,651 as of 5 March 2018.
This averages out to around 4,000 registrations a month.
A GP at Hand spokesman said: “People have the right to choose their NHS practice.
“Londoners clearly like GP at hand, which as a free-at-point-of-need NHS service, extends 24/7 primary healthcare access to more members of the public.”
Babylon had originally planned to roll-out GP at Hand to more clinics in London as well as introducing it in Birmingham and Manchester.
However this was scaled back after NHS England lodged a “formal objection”.