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One fifth of Babylon NHS patients ‘switched back to original GP’

by Carolyn Wickware
8 June 2018

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One in five patients who signed up with the GP at Hand app in southeast London has re-registered with their original GP practice, CCG board papers have revealed.
Since November, private company Babylon has made use of the out-of-area registration scheme, and a host GP practice in Fulham, to sign up over 20,000 NHS patients across London.
As a result, when patients sign up to the app – which promises an online GP appointment within minutes – they opt to remove themselves from the list of their existing local GP practice, in favour of Dr Jefferies and partner in southwest London.
But, in addition to creating extra workload for practices, GP leaders suggested that the high rate of patients switching back  that ‘some people are not aware’ of what they are signing up to.

But Babylon said that ‘as with any new service’ there would be ‘people who try it out and prefer alternatives’.

Quoting data obtained from NHS England, NHS Lambeth CCG board papers said that across the six CCGs in southeast London, 4,606 patients registered with GP at Hand between November 2017 and March 2018. But out of these 941 had since re-registered with their original GP practice.
CCG analysis of the practice-level data found it was ‘not always the larger list practices that are showing larger numbers of patients choosing to transfer to GP at Hand’, which it concluded ‘may indicate other concerns about access’ or that there were ‘higher number of patients in that practice that “fit” with the GP at Hand demographics’.
It added that the CCG ‘will keep this item under review to monitor numbers and trends’.
Dr Lisa Harrod-Rothwell, Londonwide LMCs lead medical director, told our sister publication Pulse, where this story was first published: ‘Patients de-registering and re-registering does create additional work for practices at a time when they are facing an already heavy administrative workload due to Capita, regulation and other pressures.
‘It also suggests that some people are not aware of the limitations of a primarily online provider at the point they switch away from community-based general practice, which offers a full range of services on their doorstep.
‘Whilst general practice in London is under immense pressure, we know that practices are sympathetic to patients who have found themselves in this position and have been able to register them back on to their lists.’
A Babylon spokesperson said: ‘Babylon has made it possible for people to choose a comprehensive digital-first NHS GP service.
‘The popularity of the service is clear: almost 50,000 people have applied to join, and over 85% of the more than 20,000 ratings received for digital appointments are for the full five stars.
‘As with any new service, particularly in the digital world, there will be people who try it out and prefer alternatives.
‘What matters is that people can choose the NHS GP practice that works best for them, and every month more and more people are choosing the 24/7 Babylon-powered NHS GP service.’
The impact of the launch of the new service on patient care has yet to be evaluated. NHS Hammersmith and Fulham CCG launched a bid in March worth £250k to hire an independent evaluator to assess the ‘outcomes and impacts’.
It has already determined that it will require an extra £18m in primary care allocations from NHS England to be able to balance the books in 2018/19 due to the swift influx of GP at Hand patients.
This story was first published on our sister publication Pulse, which has contacted NHS England (London) for a comment.