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GP at Hand call centre

Dr Zahra Damji at the GP at Hand HQ in Chelsea. Picture by Alex Lentati

Londoners using a new NHS service offering smartphone consultations with a GP are being advised by doctors living miles from the capital, the Standard has learned.

Babylon Health, the private company running the GP at Hand service, said the majority of its medics worked from home outside London.

It said more than 21,000 patients were now registered to use the service, which launched last November, offering 24/7 video consultations within two hours. Applications were being received “every two minutes”, it said.

The firm employs more than 50 doctors and claims to be inundated with job seekers. Babylon chief executive Ali Parsa said: “For every 10 GPs that apply for a job, we employ one. We employ them right across the country.

“You could be talking to a GP in Reading or the Shires or from South-East England. That allows us to keep our standards of who we have really high. I’m always gobsmacked by the quality of our GPs.”

Click here for previous coverage of GP at Hand in the Evening Standard.

Dr Matt Noble, medical director at Babylon, said: “GPs come from all over the place and from all walks of life. This is particularly popular for those for whom a traditional surgery life is not a good fit.”

The Standard was invited to its head office in Chelsea, where about 300 people work – many driving its technological innovations.

Patients signing up for GP at Hand are registered at a conventional GP practice in Lillie Road. This, plus four medical hubs in central London, are available for the 10 per cent of patients it says require an in-person consultation.

At present, NHS restrictions only enable people living in zones 1-3 to use GP at Hand. This requires them to leave their “local” GP. Their medical records have to be transferred, which can take one to three weeks, before treatment can be offered.

The service, which is free, is providing about 2,000 10-minute video consultations a week. About 30 per cent are outside conventional 8am-8pm GP opening hours.

One of its GPs, Dr Olivia de Rougemont, said: “I think the people I have consulted with really appreciate the ease and convenience and the fact they don’t have to wait two, three or four weeks for an appointment.

“Most things I can solve on the phone. I can see how sick you look. I can see if you are talking in full sentences, if you look pale, if you look sweaty. I can see rashes and swollen areas.

“Sometimes I ask patients to press certain areas to see what part hurts. I can get the patient to participate in the examination.”

About 15,000 GP at Hand patients are aged 20-39 – sparking concern that conventional surgeries will be left to deal with the elderly and patients with chronic or complex conditions.

Dr Emily Witt, a GP in Kilburn, said: “The idea behind GP at Hand is good. I think it’s important to have innovation in the NHS, and in GP surgeries.

“The problem is that when you register with GP at Hand you are then de-registered with your local GP, and the money then flows to GP at Hand. You can’t look after the sicker people if the money for the well people isn’t there.”

NHS England and Hammersmith and Fulham clinical commissioning group is conducting an indepedent review of GP at Hand before deciding whether to allow it to expand.

Mr Parsa said: “We see absolutely no reason why we cannot serve the whole nation the way we serve London. I have no doubt this is the future of healthcare. The genie is out of the bottle.”

  • An edited version of this story appears in tonight’s Evening Standard.