A digital GP centre in Birmingham has been rated ‘Outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

South Doc Services Limited runs virtual primary care services for the MyHealthcare GP federation, which are run at several hubs across Birmingham and involve more than 47 GP practices, covering around 300,000 registered patients.

Each practice has full access to the Virtual Centre, based at West Heath Medical Centre, which was inspected by the CQC in April 2018.

The virtual centre was launched in 2015 and is part of a pilot project initially funded by by the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund – a £50 million Challenge Fund to help improve access to general practice and stimulate innovative ways of providing primary care services.

The digital service allows patients to book telephone and video consultations with a GP, nurse practitioner or prescribing pharmacist seven days a week.

Other virtual services include an app for patients and a telephone-based prescription ordering department (POD).

A report, published by the CQC on 11 July, rated the service ‘Outstanding’, commending the fact the “service used technology to improve treatment and to support patients’ independence”.

The CQC also praised the provider’s MyHealthcare Patient App, which offers long-term condition management and lifestyle management.

According to the report, the app is linked to patients’ records and, at the time of publication, there were approximately 3000 people registered.

The inspectorate also mentioned how unverified data from the provider showed that the virtual service had “reduced the burden on other services such as hospital emergency departments”.

Nirmal Vora, CEO at SDS MyHealthcare, said he was “delighted” with the rating.

He added: “As an innovative partner, we’re keen to bring the NHS’s online offering into the modern era. Patients already enjoy outstanding digital experiences in the retail and entertainment sectors, for example, and we’re determined to add public healthcare to that list.

“As an NHS initiative, we are ideally placed to have full access to all its many services. This gives us a unique advantage over the private sector. But to be truly successful, it’s vital that our technology outperforms that of our commercial rivals. This is why we’re working hard to improve our video consultations and app capabilities even further.”

Speaking to Digital Health News, Vora said that the aim of the virtual centre was “not to disrupt the market” but rather provide a “continuity of care” for patients and give them faster access to their GP.

He added: “This has not been done for private reasons.”

The CQC published a separate report in March 2018 that looked into services that provide GP consultations and prescriptions, through independent websites and apps.

The report revealed that 43% of the providers inspected by the CQC were found not to be providing safe care in accordance to the relevant regulations.

However, this was an improvement from 86% not fully meeting these regulations on their first inspections.