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General practice

NHS patients can switch to online-only GP surgery

A service that will offer video consultations with a GP via an app has been criticised for potentially excluding less well patients with a wide range of conditions. 

GP online consultation ss nov 17

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Royal College of General Practitioners has expressed concern that the online consultation service favours commuters but excludes women who are pregnant and people with mental health conditions, increasing the pressures on community-based GPs

An NHS-backed service that would see patients leaving their traditional GP list and registering with an online-only service has been accused of “cherry picking” healthier patients and leaving other NHS services to pick up the pieces.

The GP at hand service will provide video consultations with a GP via an app, and it has been offered to patients registered at the Lillie Road Surgery in Fulham, London. Patients registering for the service will shift their registration to the service, and it promises that a video consultation will be “usually available” within two hours.

The online element of the service is run by the internet-only GP service Babylon, but face-to-face consultations with a doctor can be booked at a number of clinics across London.

The service is free to any patient currently registered with the Lillie Road Surgery, but fears have been expressed that only the healthiest patients will sign up.

Twin-track approach

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.

“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 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.”

The GP at hand service will use electronic prescriptions where possible, and it will post paper versions where an electronic prescription cannot be used.

If a particular drug cannot be prescribed via the electronic prescription service, such as controlled drugs, the patient will have to arrange a face-to-face consultation with a doctor in one of the available clinics.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20203906

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