A SMARTPHONE app that offers video consultations with GPs would “cherry-pick” healthier and more able patients, leaving vulnerable people out in the cold, doctors warned yesterday.
Both the Royal College of GPs and the British Medical Association’s GP committee said that the first NHS-backed “virtual GP service” would overlook those who are frail, pregnant or have mental-health issues.
The GP at Hand service, launched by a group of London GPs with private healthcare technology firm Babylon Health, promises a video consultation within two hours of booking. If a patient needs a face-to-face appointment, they are asked to travel to clinics in commuter hubs in London.
Royal College of GPs chairwoman Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: “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.
“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.”
“While this scheme is backed by the NHS and offers a free service to patients, it is undoubtedly luring GPs away from front-line general practice at a time when we are facing a severe workforce crisis and hardworking GPs are struggling to cope with immense workloads,” she said.
BMA GP committee chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said that the scheme risks “further fragmenting the service provided to the public” and he echoed the warning that the company would be “primarily cherry-picking younger, generally healthier people.”
He added: “It will do nothing to help the growing number of older, vulnerable patients who need well-funded services that can provide the specialist care they need in the community.”