Controversial ‘virtual doctor’ from Babylon to expand in UK

Babylon Health’s GP at Hand virtual GP service has been given permission to expand services in Birmingham after receiving backing from England’s independent healthcare standards watchdog.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) earlier this month said in a report that GP at Hand provided a “good” service, two years after the watchdog said in a report that it provided unsafe care.

While the service has been piloted as a new and more efficient way for patients to access care, doctors have criticised the service because of the initially poor reviews from the CQC and concerns that it targets mainly young and healthy patients.

Following the CQC’s positive findings it has also emerged that a digital-first service in Birmingham and Solihull has been given permission to lift a cap on the number of patients registered with it.

The service had been previously limited to 2,600 patients but board papers at Hammersmith and Fulham Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) where the service was piloted revealed this restriction has now been lifted.

This could trigger further expansion of the service, according to the GPonline website, which said there were already nearly 72,000 patients registered with the service at the start of this month.

Hammersmith and Fulham CCG is also considering a bid from the provider to expand to Manchester from February 2020.

A decision is due next month if patient safety concerns are met, and to ensure patients are able to access other care pathways.

According to the website the British Medical Association has concerns that the service is primarily attracting young and fit patients.

BMA GP committee UK chair Dr Richard Vautrey said earlier this year that continuing with out-of-area registrations “allows a practice to cherry-pick healthier and wealthier patients,” GPonline reported.

Instead Vautrey called for better IT infrastructure in practices across the country to allow more patients to access services.

A spokesperson for Babylon said: “We welcome the news that Hammersmith and Fulham have agreed to remove the list size cap on 2,600 Babylon GP at Hand patients in Birmingham. We were assured that there would not be a long delay and are glad to see that was the case. This means anyone in Birmingham who wants to join our popular NHS service is free to do so.

“We are also working with Manchester CCG and our local commissioners in Hammersmith and Fulham to roll-out services in Manchester. The plans are on schedule with commissioners having shared their assurance framework with us last week.”

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