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Babylon Health Looks Set to Tighten its Grip on the NHS

The Health Service Journal is reporting today that University Hospitals Birmingham Foundation Trust has entered into talks with Babylon Health to explore the potential of a partnership in which Babylon Health's controversial app GP at Hand would be used to reduce footfall within hospitals, with a particular focus on A&E Departments.

The talks are said to be exploring the possibility of using the apps video consultation software to provide virtual outpatient appointments, as well as triage functions.

The National Health Action Party (NHAP) believes these talks and any further roll-out of GP at Hand services across the NHS to be seriously detrimental to the financial stability of general practice.

We have previously made the case that GP at Hand cherry picks patients, and in the process undermines the foundations - both ethically and financially - of general practice. And this is still the case.

The idea underpinning the current system of GP funding is that money follows the patient. Traditionally those patients who use GP services less are younger and healthier patients. The funding that these patients bring with them is then used to fund the care of those patients with more complex and longer term needs. These patients traditionally being elderly or disabled.

But GP at Hand functions by having younger patients leave their current practices in order to register with the app. 85% of the apps users being aged between 20 and 39 years of age.

Meaning in turn that practices across London have found themselves with dwindling funding whilst being left to fund the care of more costly patients. The number of patients registered with the app has soared to 51,000.

In turn this has had devastating effects upon Hammersmith and Fulham CCG which hosts the app.

The CCG has had to be bailed out to the tune of millions by neighbouring London CCGs, as its patient list has swelled whilst central government refuses to provide the CCG with funds to cope with the influx, leading to a potential closure of local services, and local Labour MP Andy Slaughter calling for a Select Committee investigation into the app. 

Consequently, these latest talks represent another blow to evidence-based decision making in the NHS.

GPs in Birmingham have made it clear they do not want GP at Hand to be rolled out into the city, especially when an independent report into the safety of the app and its effects upon general practice still has not been released.

The talks between Babylon Health and the Trust are also perplexing given that the Artificial Intelligence of the app has been severely criticised by both clinicians and in peer reviewed research.

So, it is something of a mystery as to why the Trust believes this software ought to be rolled out for triage functions in emergency settings.

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