• Digital GP provider Babylon announces second trust partnership 
  • Royal Wolverhampton CEO says he expects some backlash from GPs in region
  • The collaboration will result in the world’s first integrated digital healthcare system 

Babylon has announced major plans to partner with a Midlands trust and launch “digital-first integrated care” across the region.

The digital GP provider and the Royal Wolverhampton Trust have announced a 10-year partnership to develop what they say will be a new model of healthcare – with services set to launch before the end of the year.

The trust itself already runs 10 GP practices – more than any other in England — as well as acute and community services. Its chief executive told HSJ  its GPs were strongly supportive, but he expected some backlash from primary care elsewhere in the region.

According to the announcement from Wolverhampton and Babylon, the partnership will allow patients to access NHS primary, secondary and community healthcare services through a single app.

There are plans for remote access to GPs and hospital specialists, real-time monitoring of patients with chronic conditions and rehab following a hospital admission are among the digital services that patients will be able to access in the region.

Artificial intelligence will also be used to create personal care plans and give patients medical information and triage advice based on their symptoms, the pair said in a statement.

Wolverhampton is the second trust in the region to link with Babylon, after the private provider partnered with University Hospitals Birmingham last year.

The “digital-first integrated care” deal agreed between the trust and Babylon is not the same as the two main services currently offered by the company.

These are Babylon Healthcare, which provides a private digital-first primary care services – offering remote appointments and symptom-checker tools through an app — and an NHS service, GP at Hand, that offers digital services to NHS patients in London and Birmingham, and is expected to expand to Manchester this year.

Babylon announced its first trust partnership with Birmingham in May 2019 – and has since launched an AI-based triage service which allows patients to check their symptoms online before they go to hospital.

Chief executive of the Royal Wolverhampton David Loughton said the new partnership provides an opportunity for the trust to tackle staffing pressures – adding it was “critical” the NHS has a digitally-empowered workforce.

He told HSJ: “The one problem we will always have is workforce. We have got to find different ways of doing things and using AI is one. There will be other things. We can’t keep doing what we are doing because it isn’t working. You have only got to look at A&E attendances over the last period – they are pretty poor. We just can’t keep doing it.”

Mr Loughton said more planning was needed to establish how the new health system will interact with primary care networks in the area.

GP at Hand has previously been criticised by GPs for cherry-picking younger, healthier patients.

Mr Loughton said: “The trust is a PCN [itself] and obviously our GPs are absolutely fine about it. As yet, we haven’t worked out how we will take it forward [with other PCNs].

“I will expect some abreaction from some of the others. They don’t like Babylon. They see Babylon as creaming off the not very ill and [being] left with the not very fit, but you cannot possibly just stay with that view.

“The next generation – they won’t want to interact with health services in the way we have done. People are not going to want to turn up at [a] GP and have an appointment.”

CEO and founder of Babylon Ali Parsa said: “We are extremely proud of this exciting 10-year partnership with RWT which will benefit patients and the NHS as a whole.

“We have over 1,000 AI experts, clinicians, engineers and scientists who will be helping to make digital-first integrated care a reality and provide fast, effective, proactive care to patients.

“Together with RWT, we can demonstrate this works and help the NHS lead healthcare across the world.”

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