Babylon Health Services has failed to stop the publication of a Care Quality Commission report that states it is not providing a safe service in some areas.
The company had filed a legal action in the High Court, challenging the publication of the results of its second CQC inspection. Overall the CQC said the report was “not particularly adverse”.
On Friday, a court hearing granted permission for Babylon to challenge the “decision to publish” the report, but rejected an application for a continuation of an injunction restraining its publication.
“Any reputational disadvantage for the claimant could not result in the balance coming down in favour of the continuation of the injunction,” the judge said.
The CQC published the report following this decision. In a statement following the publication, Babylon has challenged the accuracy of the report (see comment below).
The court also heard that the CQC had agreed to remove a large part of the original report before it is published.
The deleted portion was a summary, where “unfortunate generalised statements” were made, which did not match the detailed findings of the inspectors, the judge said.
The CQC told the court that the report was “balanced and nuanced” and “not particularly adverse”.
In fact, it put Babylon in the top quarter of favourable inspection reports it had undertaken, the court heard.
After the decision a CQC spokesman told HSJ: “Legal proceedings were brought by the provider to determine whether or not this report of our inspection of Babylon Healthcare Services Ltd could be published. The Care Quality Commission stood by its findings and the court has agreed that these can now be published. We are pleased that we are now able to report on our findings in line with our statutory responsibility to provide information to the public about the quality of services.
“We are unable to comment on any subsequent legal proceedings that may follow but CQC will actively participate in any such process.”
Babylon Health Services is a private company that has developed a GP video consultation and symptom checker app.
It was founded by former Circle chief executive Ali Parsa.
The CQC report states that: “In some areas, this service was not providing safe care in accordance with the relevant regulations”.
It also found the service was not effective in one area, but said it was responsive, caring and well-led.
Specifically, the report found that in 12 cases of prescribing checked by inspectors, a Babylon GP had not adhered to the company’s own policy around checking a patient’s identity.
GPs had also prescribed medication outside “of their licensed indications”, the CQC said.
“This is higher risk because less information is available to show the benefits of the medicine for an unlicensed condition, and less is known about the potential risks,” the report said.
There were also concerns about the prescription of medicine for patients with long term health conditions, the report said.
“There was a reliance on verbal information given by patients instead of obtaining evidence, such as blood test results, to enable clinicians to prescribe safely. For example, we looked at the records of three patients with thyroid disease and found no records of blood test being recorded or requested.”
This is the second CQC report published on Babylon, with the first in October last year, finding it was compliant with the relevant regulations.
The Babylon service is available privately, for flat fee, but is increasingly also being used within the NHS. It is also heavily involved in several NHS England backed pilots, including to provide a digital NHS 111 service and NHS Online app for patient services.
In November, the company announced its biggest NHS partnership to date, GP at Hand, a group of London GPs that claimed it would provide most of its GP services through Babylon app to millions of Londoners. The Babylon service plays a significant role in GP at Hand’s service, but GP at Hand is registered separately with the CQC as a GP practice, which is not the subject of the report published today.
The launch of the service was criticised by some GPs, including the British Medical Association and Royal College of GPs.
Babylon challenges findings
Babylon spokesman said: ”The regulator states [in court] that their report puts Babylon in ’the top quartile of most favourable reports carried out by the regulator’ and that ’we found that the services were safe, effective, caring, responsive and well-led’.
“We are nonetheless disappointed that CQC’s inspection report contains many inaccuracies…
“We are concerned that the regulator has found it so difficult to assess digital healthcare in its most recent round of inspections.”
In the statement, Babylon medical director Mobasher Butt, a former clinical advisor to the chief medical officer, said: ”As a leader in digital healthcare, we feel we have a duty to point out the shortcomings of the regulator in this area and take the necessary steps to address that, in a hope to promote change, which is essential to ensuring that the UK promotes innovation.
”We welcome CQC’s acceptance that their approach needs to change fast, and that in October it started a dialogue with organisations like Babylon to improve its regulation of digital health. We look forward to working with them to developing guidelines in this area.
“Babylon goes far further than traditional GPs when it comes to safety measures; every patient appointment is recorded, encrypted and can be played back by the patient. Patients using Babylon will typically speak to a GP within two hours, which is far safer than the commonplace two weeks wait time for a routine GP appointment. We would be happy for our safety systems to be compared side-by-side with any other provider’s, to highlight the differences.”