A pilot scheme, GP at Hand, has been launched by a partnership of London GPs and the online healthcare service Babylon. the service will offer 24 hour access to GP consultations via smartphones. According to the BBC patients will be able to check symptoms using an app and receive a consultation within two hours.
However, there are concerns over the service which is currently available in West London.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “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.
“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.
“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 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.”