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Concerns raised over NHS virtual GP service

The Royal College of GPs said patients are being ‘cherry-picked’.

Leading medics have raised concerns over the first NHS smartphone virtual GP service.

Millions of NHS patients who live or work in various locations in London can sign up to the service, which offers a GP consultation via a smartphone 24 hours a day.

But the Royal College of GPs said that while the scheme may be seen as a golden ticket for some patients, others are not eligible for the service.

The GP at Hand service – created with healthcare technology firm Babylon Health – 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.

Commenting on the launch of the project, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Technology can achieve wonderful things when used properly, but we are really worried that schemes like this are creating a twin-track approach to NHS general practice and that patients are being ‘cherry-picked’, which could actually increase the pressures on traditional GPs based in the community.

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“We understand that with increasingly-long waiting times to see a GP, an online service is convenient and appealing, but older patients and those living with more complex needs want continuity of care and the security of their local practice where their GPs know them.

“We notice there is an extensive list of patient conditions such as frailty, pregnancy and mental health conditions that are the essence of general practice, and which GPs deal with every day, but which are not eligible for this service.

“While this scheme is backed by the NHS and offers a free service to patients, it is undoubtedly luring GPs away from frontline general practice at a time when we are facing a severe workforce crisis and hardworking GPs are struggling to cope with immense workloads.”

Dr Matt Noble, partner at the GP at Hand practice, said: “Claims it will only cherry-pick healthy patients are simply untrue.

“This service is open to anyone within the eligibility area and from our pilots of the service in Essex and West London, we have seen a broad range of patients benefiting from being able to see a GP quickly and at the patients’ convenience, including elderly patients who find it difficult to get to surgeries.”

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