The Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which hosts the NHS GP at Hand service, has proposed slashing urgent care centre hours due to a funding crisis.
Hammersmith and Fulham CCG is consulting with residents over plans to cut the centre’s opening hours at Hammersmith Hospital and reduce the number of GP "hubs" offering out-of-hour appointments.
Local MP Andy Slaughter has pointed the finger at Babylon Health’s GP at Hand service for causing the CCG’s financial problems by distorting patient list size and subsequent funding at its primary practice in Fulham.
WHY IT MATTERS
The "digital first" service, which offers patients video consultations, a virtual symptom checker and chatbot triage, has almost 50,000 users, of which only 5% are based in the borough.
In a letter to health and social care committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston, Slaughter blamed the practice’s large patient list for the CCG’s accumulated funding deficit of more than $33.7 million (£26m) in 2018-2020.
“Babylon Health has created an inverted pyramid structure where a single point of contact is now competing with GPs across the country," Slaughter claims in the letter, which he posted on Twitter.
WHAT'S THE CONTEXT
Meanwhile, the North West London Collaboration of CCGs, which includes Hammersmith and Fulham, revealed it ended the year with a $73.4 million (£56.7m) deficit and an underlying challenge of around $129.4 million (£100m).
A spokesperson said the collaboration of CCGs was working on a financial recovery plan and was in “ongoing conversations” with NHS England about the financial implications of GP at Hand.
“The costs of this service are recognised and we are expecting a national solution to help us manage this issue,” they added.
Speaking at a Westminster debate last month, health minister Seema Kennedy said NHS England “does not believe the CCG has had to scale back services because of any extra financial burden from GP at Hand” but was working with the CCG “to explore options for maintaining the robustness of the commissioning system.”
A department of health and social care spokesperson said the funding allocation made to Hammersmith and Fulham CCG had been increased for 2019-2020 “to reflect the increased patient lists.”
ON THE RECORD
Paul Bate, managing director of NHS services at Babylon Health, said: “We want to make it easier for patients to see a GP so this issue between Hammersmith and Fulham CCG and NHS England needs to be resolved, but in the meantime the needs of patients have to be put first.
“GP at Hand gets paid the same as any other practice for providing GP care – and with that money offers usual GP care plus 24/7 access to a GP through the app.”