• NHSE launches consultation into digital primary care sector 
  • Health bosses say new digital providers should be launched in areas where there is an identified need 
  • Targeting “under doctored” areas could help tackle health inequalities, according to NHSE

New digital primary care providers could be made to set up in under-doctored areas, NHS England has said.

Yesterday NHSE launched a consultation on plans to overhaul the digital primary care sector, in response to the expansion of controversial digital practice Babylon GP at Hand.

Digital GP providers tend to offer remote GP consultations, either via text or video, and prescribing services linked to an online pharmacy.

The consultation document states that allowing providers to set up new digital services “anywhere in England” could lead to a large number of patients leaving existing practices, forcing them to close.

Therefore, it would be “more beneficial” to launch digital providers in areas where “there is an identified need”, according to NHSE.

NHSE adds that population growth has led to a shortage of the GP workforce – particularly in more deprived areas where doctors tend to care for more patients.

If the proposals are approved, new digital primary care providers would be required to have a “credible” plan to bring new GPs into the area they are based in.

The document said: “The development of digital general practice now offers the possibility that has never before existed – to expand GP capacity for patients in an area even when the GP sessions are provided at some distance.

“By targeting under-doctored areas, it could help to bring additional capacity into these areas and deliver improvements in access.

“This would support our wider goals to reduce health inequalities. We would therefore require any such providers to have a credible plan for bringing additional GPs into the area from outside, and to deliver this additionality as an ongoing contractual requirement.”

However, NHSE says it will be a “challenge” to identify areas where there are major shortages of doctors as there is “no standard definition or methodology”.

Officials have called for views on how areas lacking in GPs can be identified, which is expected to be developed following the consultation.

There is also a “strong case” that physical clinics launched as part of new digital services should be set up in deprived communities.

The report adds: “In addition to this, we would expect providers not only to establish services in deprived communities but also to take steps to ensure that their registered population reflects the wider population which they are being asked to serve.”