NHS IT system provider EMIS Health has sent out a survey to 300,000 GP patients asking whether they would consider paying to see their GP more quickly.
In a survey that was sent out earlier this week to patients, EMIS also asks whether patients would like to see the NHS privatised.
The survey was sent from Patient Access – EMIS Health’s website that allows patients to book GP appointments, order repeat prescriptions and view their medical records – without the involvement of GP practices.
It also requests patients’ personal information including age, residence and household income.
GPs have said the survey is ‘ethically dubious’ in determining patients’ ‘preparedness for exploitation’ by private providers.
An email sent alongside the 79-question EMIS survey says its purpose is to ‘understand our users and their attitudes towards healthcare, so we can keep improving the tools and services we provide’.
The email, seen by our sister publication Pulse, also said EMIS is looking for ‘as many of our users as possible’ to complete the survey.
The survey asks patients whether they are ‘in favour of the privatisation of NHS services’, allowing them to explain their answer.
It then asks: ‘Would you be interested in a service that for a small fixed monthly fee (under £10) allows you to avoid long waiting lists for medical consultations, diagnoses and treatments?’
This comes after leading doctors rejected calls for the BMA to consider charging patients for GP appointments in order to fund the NHS at this year’s Annual Representative Meeting.
Meanwhile the survey also asks whether patients have ‘heard of any of the following online healthcare services’, before listing providers including GP at Hand and their direct competitors Evergreen and My GP.
Babylon’s GP at Hand has caused continued concern amoung GPs, with RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard most recently saying the service could create a ‘two-tiered’ health service.
Hampshire GP Dr Neil Bhatia, who runs a website that helps patients to understand data sharing, told Pulse the survey is attempting ‘to maintain [EMIS’s] registered users … and/or to somehow attract people to register with them preferentially’.
He added: ‘If I was answering the survey, I would be very concerned with what Patient Access intend to do with all this information provided by me, and whether this was going to be passed on to a third party.’
GP Survival chair Dr Alan Woodall added that he is ‘very concerned at the ramifications’ of the survey.
He said: ‘This recent marketing survey ran by EMIS, which mentions services such as Babylon, seems to be a way to determine brand penetration of some online providers.
‘While the data may be anonymised, it will no doubt deep mine their age, geographical location, income and preparedness for exploitation by private online consultation services.
He added: ‘I find that ethically dubious at best, not in the spirit of patient sign up, and hope that NHS IT commissioners and the ICO look carefully at this situation.’
When asked why patients were questioned on NHS privatisation and co-payments, Jason Keane, chief executive of Patient Platform Limited, which runs Patient Access, said: ‘This survey is part of ongoing work by Patient Access to understand more about our users and their attitudes to healthcare, to enable us to better serve them.’
He added: ‘The survey was sent to around 300,000 users of Patient Access who opted in to receive communications including surveys.
‘We have had a high and positive response rate from them. The results are confidential, and the survey was funded by Patient Platform Limited, which operates Patient Access as part of EMIS Group.’
This story was first published on our sister publication Pulse.