- Babylon GP at Hand set to offer video consultations in Manchester in early 2020
- Commissioners in London and Manchester to be formally notified of plans this month
- New service will operate under new digital provider rules agreed by NHS England last week
Babylon GP at Hand has announced plans to expand its video consultation service to Manchester at the beginning of next year.
Director of NHS services for Babylon Health Paul Bate said commissioners in London – where GP at Hand is registered – and Manchester will be “formally notified” of plans this month.
If commissioners back proposals, then GP at Hand is expected to go live in Manchester at the beginning of 2020. A new physical clinic will be launched in the city, although a location is yet to be confirmed.
Mr Bate said: “We have been through this several times in London and more recently in Birmingham.
“We are looking to work very closely with commissioners and providers.
“Our aim is to go from where we are today in early October through to the first quarter of 2020 with a live service, but there are steps along that journey.
“I don’t want to pre-judge what the commissioners are going to say, but we have got a good way of doing this and it is a safe way of offering people services.”
The move will mean GP at Hand – Babylon Health’s NHS service – will have clinics in three cities, after its video consultations services went live in Birmingham over the summer.
Commissioners initially placed a cap on the number of patients who could sign up to the Birmingham service until a glitch in the software – which meant patients may be offered screening appointments in London – was resolved.
However, Mr Bate said he does not expect the same restriction to be placed on the Manchester service as the issue should be resolved “long before” the clinic is launched.
Babylon’s announcement comes a week after NHS England and Improvement approved a new set of rules for digital first providers, which will force Babylon to change the way it currently operates.
The provider has used flexibility in the rules to register around 60,000 patients from across London – and more recently Birmingham – to a single Fulham-based practice. Its expansion has put increasing pressure on Hammersmith and Fulham Clinical Commissioning Group, which is effectively responsible for all the patients.
The new rules will limit the number of “out of area” patients that can be registered to one practice, avoiding excessive pressure being placed on a single CCG through the expansion of a digital primary care service.
Under the new rules, once a practice registers 1,000 patients in a given CCG area, they would need to be issued with a new “alternative provider medical services” contract for that patch, dividing up the list.
However, the Manchester practice will operate under the old model until the new rules come in to force in April 2020. Once 1,000 patients from Manchester are signed up with Babylon GP at Hand after April next year, a new APMS contract would be triggered.
Mr Bate added further expansion plans are also being explored – potentially in rural areas – while conversations with NHS trusts are ongoing.
He said: “At this stage, we are having lots of conversations with lots of trusts across the country – we are definitely not ready to talk specifics yet.
“We are very conscious of the [direction of] policy travel to make sure under-doctored areas are well catered for.
“We are looking right around the country. There is commitment from Babylon to provide services right around the NHS. We want to be sensitive to areas to make sure it is something that works for people in that area and of course the NHS as a whole.”
A spokesperson for Manchester Health and Care Commissioning said: ”Whenever any new provider of health and care services plans to come into the city, our priority is to ensure that their services are high quality, meet the needs of local people, and contribute to the financial and clinical sustainability of the health and care system in the city.
“We will consider Babylon Health’s proposal within this context and expect to have further discussions with them, and health and care colleagues across the city, over the coming weeks.”
What is GP at Hand?
GP at Hand is digital GP provider Babylon Health’s NHS service, which offers patients video consultations through an app on their smartphone.
The service is provided in partnership with a Fulham-based practice – formerly called Dr S Jefferies and Partners – and Babylon Health.
GP at Hand has used flexibility in the current rules to register tens of thousands of patients outside the immediate catchment area of its physical surgeries, all of which Hammersmith and Fulham CCG is financially responsible for.
The service has expanded quickly since its launch in 2016, growing its patient list to more than 60,000.
Earlier this summer, it expanded its services to patients in Birmingham – all of which will still be registered with the Fulham practice. Its patients are also disproportionately younger than the national average.
Its rapid growth has prompted concerns among GPs, regulators and commissioners that the service could destabilise the primary care system by undermining the financial viability of GP practices that are losing patients and CCGs struggling with the sudden shift in costs.
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