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In the news: Video link NHS consultation trials in London

A pilot scheme trialling 24-hour GP consultations for NHS patients has been launched in greater London, allowing patients to connect with a doctor via their smartphones.

3.5 million people will have access to the trial, and will be able to have a video consultation within two hours of booking an ‘appointment’, as well as the option of checking their symptoms using the app.

Those choosing to join the scheme will leave their current GP practice and have their medical records transferred to a cluster group of five surgeries in Central London. The service – GP at Hand – is free, and has been launched by a group of GPs and online healthcare provider, Babylon.

Director of patients and information at NHS England, Jane Barnacle, says that GP practices are right to look into new technology that could improve free NHS services, but the Royal College of GPs is concerned that patient care may be compromised, as those with more complex needs may not be helped enough.

Chairwoman of the RCGP, 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.

“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.

“We 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.

“As well as issues with patient confidentiality and the safety of the patient record, it is 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 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.”

Her concerns are echoed by Dr Richard Vautrey of the British Medical Association. He said: “This approach risks undermining the quality and continuity of care and further fragmenting the service provided to the public.”

GP at Hand deny that patient care would be compromised by the pilot system. Dr Mobasher Butt – part of the pilot team, said on BBC Radio’s Today programme: “It’s high time that NHS patients were given the opportunity to benefit from technology to improve access to healthcare.

“We’ve benefited from this kind of technology in so many different aspects of our lives, whether that be shopping or banking, and it’s really time that we were able to do that in healthcare for NHS patients.”

Back in February, we wrote about the burgeoning role of technology in the NHS as a major cost-saving tool. Read our piece here.

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