The Royal College of GPs has said it has concerns about a new GP app launched today. 

Babylon health has partnered with NHS GPs to  launch GP at Hand, a free, NHS service offering GP appointments within minutes via smartphone, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

It is claimed that GP at Hand will slash waiting times to see a GP from the current average of two weeks to just a matter of minutes as registered patients can:

  • Book a GP appointment in seconds through the babylon smartphone app
  • Have a video consultation with an NHS GP typically in under two hours of booking, anytime, anywhere 
  • Have an in-person appointment if needed at convenient city centre locations on the same or next day
  • Have prescriptions delivered to a pharmacy of their choice
  • Play back the entirety of video consultations on their phone post-consultation
  • Check their symptoms with the world’s most advanced artificial intelligence to reassure themselves accurately on what they should do next.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said that some patients will see this as a ‘golden ticket’ to get quick and easy access to a GP - and for younger, healthier commuters it could prove a solution to long waiting times for an appointment.

She added: “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.

“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."

She said that they are also concerned that patients are being given the option of switching back to their local surgery if they are not satisfied with the level of service offered by the app. This was because as well as issues with patient confidentiality and the safety of the patient record, it would be hard to see how this could be achieved without adding to the huge burden of red tape that GPs are already grappling with.

“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.

“The real and long-term solution lies in greater investment in general practice. In England, this means the delivery of the NHS England GP Forward View, which would mean £2.4billion extra a year for general practice, 5,000 more GPs, and 5,000 more members of the practice team.”