The chairman of a doctor’s union is calling for GP at Hand to be “scrapped immediately”.

The free NHS service, powered by Babylon, allows 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.

In a letter to Jeremy Hunt, signed by more than 130 health professionals, Doctors in Unite (DiU) – which is part of the Unite union – said signs up for GP at Hand have caused list sizes at GP practices to fall for the first time “in years”. When patients sign up for the service, they automatically de-register from their old practice.

The letter reads: “There is no doubt that GP at Hand will destabilise other practices, robbing them of the vital risk pooling and cross subsidy which enables them to provide good care to their more complex and unwell patients.”

The letter also accuses GP at Hand of threatening the model of general practices by “hoovering up” younger patients.

Chairman of DiU, Dr David Wrigley, said: “An increasing number of GPs are in open revolt at this online service that is seriously eroding the vital personal relationship between GP and patient, as envisaged when the NHS was set up in 1948.

“The model of care used by GP at Hand should be scrapped immediately.”

When contacted for comment, GP at Hand defended their service.

A spokesman said: “People have the right to choose their NHS practice. GP at Hand is an NHS service; paid for by the NHS; providing NHS services to all patients – just like the vast majority of GP practices throughout the UK.

“In seven months, over 40,000 people living or working in central London have applied to join NHS GP at Hand, with more than four out of five people rating our digital appointments giving them the full five stars. The average waiting time for an NHS GP appointment with GP at Hand is 38 minutes, compared to waits for routine appointments in traditional practices of a week or more.

“The reality is that patients and GPs are flocking to GP at Hand because they recognise the potential that high quality, digital-first 24/7 NHS GP services bring. The 200 GPs who have already joined Babylon do so because they are treated with respect and not put under the levels of pressure all too common in other practices.

“GP at Hand receives the same funding from the NHS as the vast majority of NHS practices do. The cross-subsidy allegation shows a failure to understand the basics of how NHS practices are funded.”

This is not the first time GP at Hand has been met with criticism.

In March 2018, Digital Health News reported on how a group gathered in east London to protest against the service.

GP at Hand was accused of draining resources from NHS practices with protesters holding up banners reading ‘GP at Hand should be banned’ and ‘GP at Hand not in my land’ while there were also similar chants against privatisation of the NHS. (A picture from the protest can be seen above.)