Technology

Virtual GP service should be available to all – Health Secretary

The service has proved controversial since it was launched last year.

A virtual GP service which offers video consultations to patients via their smartphones 24 hours a day should not be subject to a “postcode lottery”, the Health Secretary has said.

Matt Hancock said the GP At Hand service should be “available to all”, regardless of where they live.

Currently, patients who live or work in various locations in London can sign up to the service, which was created with healthcare technology firm Babylon Health.

It offers a booking system through a smartphone app, with the promise of a video consultation within two hours of booking.

If a patient needs a face-to-face appointment, they must travel to clinics in commuter hubs.

Mr Hancock is due to give a speech at Babylon’s London headquarters on Thursday to urge health chiefs to harness new technology, the Daily Telegraph reports.

He told the paper: “GP At Hand is revolutionary – it works brilliantly for so many patients and goes with the grain of how people access modern services.

“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 service has proved controversial since it was launched in the capital last year, and has been accused of “cherry-picking” healthy patients.

Plans to expand the scheme to Birmingham have also been blocked by NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), with the the chief executive of Birmingham and Solihull CCG objecting “on the
grounds of clinical safety”.

Addressing concerns over the service in his first appearance before the Health Select Committee in July, Mr Hancock said: “I do understand some of the concerns. I think some of the concerns are misplaced but some of them are understandable.

“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’.”

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