NHS England to Cover Cost of 'GP At Hand' Mobile App

£21 million bailout will help pay bills caused by Fulham based 'digital first' practice

Hammersmith and Fulham’s local NHS group is set to be given a £21.6 million cash injection by NHS England for its turmoil over funding a 'GP at Hand' mobile app.

The huge sum will help Hammersmith and Fulham Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) pay bills it is expected to incur this year, after some 51,000 patients signed up to the GP-appointment app, owned by Babylon Health.

Under NHS rules, CCGs pay GP practices, as well as local hospitals and community services, for each patient registered with them.

Babylon’s online service, which allows patients to have GP appointments 24/7 via video-call, has had its London operations based out of one surgery in Lillie Road, Fulham, since 2017. But it has rapidly expanded, as patients throughout and beyond London signed up to the app.

This meant the local CCG was having to pay Babylon Health, and hospitals across London, for the thousands of new patients signing up to the app, despite fewer than 10% of them living in Hammersmith and Fulham.

A spokesperson for the CCG said: "The CCG has been in discussion with NHS England and has reached agreement that the costs [caused by] GP at Hand will be met for 2019/20. We are finalising the mechanism by which this will be achieved."

The spokesman added that the £21.6 million figure would cover the projected cost caused by GP at Hand for this year.

NHS England’s website says the GP at Hand app is a digital "innovation" that will help the NHS reach its 2021 target, that "every patient in England will have access to online and video consultation – if they choose it".

Councillor Ben Coleman, who has lobbied the Government to help the CCG with its funding, said a total of £35 million was also needed to help the CCG cover costs it incurred since 2017.

He tweeted that the £21.6 million "only covers 2019-20: what about the £10-13m paid out in 17-19? It’s not over yet."

A spokesperson for Babylon said it receives less than 10% of the money paid out by the CCG, with the rest going to other health services used by patients signed up to the app.

Councillor Andrew Brown, the Hammersmith and Fulham Conservative party leader, said he had lobbied ministers to fix the problem.

"I’m glad the funding agreement has been reached. I was sure it would be, it was just a case of getting it over the line," Mr Brown said.

"Myself and (Chelsea and Fulham MP) Greg Hands have been lobbying the secretary of state (Matt Hancock) and minister Stephen Hammond. I also lobbied people from NHS England at a Local Government Association board meeting in March."

Andy Slaughter, MP for Hammersmith, has called for a parliamentary investigation into GP at Hand’s funding. He warned the CCG faced a 'financial hole' that could force health watchdogs to put the local body into special measures.

This week, he raised the issue in Parliament, calling on the Government to suspend Babylon's contract while there is a proper investigation into what he described as "this privatisation of the NHS".

Babylon Health operates in 60 countries. Its website says: "Babylon’s mission is to put an accessible and affordable health service in the hands of every person on earth."

The GP at Hand app has been rated "good" by health watchdog the Care Quality Commission.

Written with contributions by Local Democracy Reporter Owen Sheppard

June 7, 2019