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NHS England blocks expansion plans for ‘GP at Hand’ app citing safety fears

Plans to expand the ‘GP at Hand’ smartphone app outside of London have been blocked by NHS chiefs citing patient safety concerns.

The app allows patients to speak directly to their GP and make appointments with a practice via their mobile phone— yet attempts by private firm Babylon Health to expand to Birmingham have been halted by NHS England, which is concerned that patients could miss appointments or treatment as they will no longer be registered with a local GP.

In order to use the app, patients must leave their current GP practice and join a practice that offers the GP at Hand service. Currently, only five practices, all based in London, are registered with the app.

Patients who want to leave the app and rejoin their family practice are not guaranteed their place, as many have “closed lists” and are not accepting registrations. Many fear that this would leave some patients without a registered practice.

GP leaders are also worried that certain symptoms will be missed as patients and doctors would only speak over the phone and not face-to-face.

A spokesperson for GP at Hand said: “Commissioners have known for more than nine months of the proposed national expansion of GP at Hand.

“The CCG made it clear at today’s meeting that GP at hand has done everything required of it in planning the expansion to Birmingham. We will continue to work with commissioners and screening leads to bring GP at hand to people across the country.”

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock stated that he wants to see the technology available across the whole of the NHS, not just “the select few” in London.

He said last month in his first speech as health secretary that using apps can be “more convenient” for patients and clinicians.

“In my experience the small part is finding or inventing the technology. The big part is embedding a culture of always looking for the best possible technology and embracing it,” explained Hancock. “I want to drive that culture change.”

Across London, a new electronic prescription service (EPS) has now also been implemented in GP practices, which has saved the NHS over £130m over the last three years. The system is now being used by all 1,311 eligible practices across the capital.

In addition to financial gains, the service will save doctors and patients a “significant amount of time,” according to NHS Digital.

EPS sends electronic prescriptions directly from GP surgeries to a patient’s nominated pharmacy. The system also allows patients to collect repeat prescriptions direct from a pharmacy, without having to visit their GP.

NHS Digital hopes that the EPS system can eventually remove the need for most paper prescriptions.

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Image credit: Georgijevic, iStock images


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