NHS England has issued a tender for an independent evaluation of Babylon’s GP at Hand service after the national body lodged a ‘formal objection’ to a significant further roll out of the service.

The free NHS-commissioned and funded service promises to cut waiting times by allowing patients to book appointments and talk to their doctor through their smartphones. But it was met with criticism from Local Medical Committees.

NHS England along with Hammersmith and Fulham Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) – which has trialled GP at Hand – issued a tender on 6 March for a £250,000 contract for an “independent evaluation” of the service.

The contract is due to start on 1 June 2018 and end 30 May 2019.

“Hammersmith and Fulham CCG, as the contracting authority would like to encourage all types of organisations to bid for this service including lead bidders and consortiums that are able and qualified to deliver a service such as this, which is hoped will pull together an appropriate mix of expertise to undertake the evaluation,” the tender states.

The closing date for bids is 5 April.

In January 2018, Digital Health News reported on how NHS England had lodged a “formal 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”.

However, it did hail the service as an “innovative”, “exciting” and “potentially transformative” approach to general practice and healthcare.

The recommendation section of the document suggested a formal review was needed: “We would suggest that a rigorous evaluation framework be agreed with local commissioners and the NHS England Regional Directorate, to accompany a more gradual roll-out of the model that enables any concerns to be rapidly identified and learning applied to mitigate the risk of any detrimental impact.”

Proposals show Babylon responded by scaling back plans to expand the service from nine physical clinics, which included Birmingham and Manchester, to four.