• Babylon and Now Healthcare removed from NHS app library
  • Comes after complaints about NHS promoting private paid services
  • App founder: We’ve done nothing wrong

Two online private health providers have been dropped from the NHS app library, with NHS England deciding it was no longer appropriate to promote non-NHS services.

Babylon Health and Now Healthcare both provide a private paid GP video consultation service through smart phones, and were among the first apps included on the NHS app library, a “beta” version of which has been running since March last year.

However, the apps have both recently been removed.

On Wednesday, NHS England’s chief digital officer, Juliet Bauer, confirmed to HSJ that the apps had been removed because “there was a feeling that, at this stage, we shouldn’t be pointing to private paid-for primary care services”.

The decision was not final and which apps are, or are not, included in the library would be up for discussion as it moves towards a final version later this year, she said.

Both apps passed an NHS assessment, focused on security and safety, more than a year ago, to get onto the app library and Ms Bauer confirmed they continued to meet those standards.

”When the NHS apps library goes live it will provide the public with a trusted location where they will be able to find health apps that have met NHS standards.” 

British Medical Association GP Committee chair Richard Vautrey raised concerns last month, reported by GP Online, about the promotion of the private services on an NHS platform. He told HSJ that NHS England had made the right decision.

”It’s important that the public and patients can be confident that NHS recommended services are just that – NHS services,” he said. “There has been a rapid expansion of digital services in recent months and its going to be increasingly important for national bodies to monitor and assess them.”

However, Now Healthcare chief executive and founder Lee Dentith said he’d been given no warning that his company’s app would be removed and other apps that remained on library were also not strictly NHS services. 

“Our service is relieving pressure on the NHS,” he said.

The presence on the NHS library had provided assurances about quality for some patients and Now Healthcare’s removal could give an unfairly negative impression, he said. “We’ve done nothing wrong.”

Mr Dentith said the company was expecting to get another NHS specific app, called Now Patient, onto the app library soon.

A Babylon Health spokesman said the company supported “the aims” of the library.

He said: ”As the focus of the NHS digital apps library changes over time, so the mix of apps that appears on it will evolve as well. Unlike companies who choose only to provide their health service privately to those who can afford it, Babylon’s technology and GPs are available through the NHS.”

Controversy about online GP consultation services has heightened since GP at Hand, a partnership between a Fulham GP practice and Babylon to provide NHS primary care, launched in November. Further expansion of GP at Hand, including outside London, has been paused as NHS England and local commissioners carry out an independent evaluation of the impact of the service.

As of Wednesday, there were 43 apps listed on the NHS app library, covering everything from a BMI calculator to tools for helping people manage their mental health.

Apart from Babylon and Now Healthcare only one other app, PHE Sugar Smart, has been removed.

Among recent additions is Health Help Now, an NHS-designed patient service directory that was briefly suspended in October after NHS England raised safety concerns.