NHS to launch year-long independent review of online doctor service

Babylon Healthcare’s roll-out of its online doctor service beyond London have hit a snag after it emerged the NHS wants to launch a year-long independent evaluation of the service.

Earlier this month, NHS procurers issued a tender on behalf of NHS Hammersmith and Fulham Clinical Commissioning Group for an independent review of Babylon Health’s GP at Hand app, which offers online GP consultations 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Patients needing a face-to-face appointment can access in-person services at one of GP at Hand’s six London-based sites.

GP at Hand is already available to paying customers but NHS Hammersmith and Fulham has piloted the scheme as an add-on service for NHS patients.

NHS England had objected to plans for a significant roll-out of GP at Hand beyond Hammersmith and Fulham following issues raised by the national independent healthcare standards watchdog, and in a further report by local commissioners.

Details of the contract for the independent review show that it is worth £250,000, and will last for a year, starting around June this year. The closing date for bids is 5 April.

It’s not clear whether the independent review will delay roll-out of GP at Home, but it is unlikely to be good news for Babylon, which was slated in a report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) watchdog late last year.

Babylon tried and failed to legally suppress a CQC report which raises issues with the safety of the service.

But a court ruled that the CQC’s report should be published, making public findings that prescribing decisions were not always appropriate and backed with patients’ medical history and national best practice guidance.

The CQC added that information from GP at Hand was not always shared with a patient’s usual doctor, and there was no system in place to assure patients were being appropriately monitored.

Another review by commissioners from Hammersmith and Fulham concluded that although the app has potential to benefit the NHS, there are concerns about its safety, clinical governance and capacity to support more patients.

A Babylon Healthcare spokesperson said in an emailed statement: “GP at hand is supportive of the independent evaluation and is confident that it will demonstrate the benefits to clinical quality, safety and convenience that our service is currently delivering to 26,000-plus registered members across London.”

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