- Company owned by The Hurley Group now delivering more than two-thirds of the online consultation systems used by GPs.
- Dr Arvind Madan, NHS England’s recently departed director of primary care, is a partner in The Hurley Group
- NHS England said his shares have been held in a blind trust and he played no part in any relevant procurement decisions
A company owned by high-profile GP provider The Hurley Group is now delivering more than two-thirds of the online consultation systems used by local practices.
Out of 479 GP practices to have implemented an online consultation system by April 2018, eConsult is listed as the main provider for 340.
The company is owned by The Hurley Group, of which Dr Arvind Madan, NHS England’s recently departed director of primary care, is a partner.
Dr Madan stepped down as a director of The Hurley Group when he took up his national post, but remained a partner and shareholder. NHS England told HSJ the shares have been held in a blind trust.
At the time of his appointment in 2015, NHS England said he would “play no part in any relevant procurement decisions and will be subject to clear safeguards on conflicts overseen by the board”. There is no suggestion this has not been the case.
Procurement decisions over online consultation systems are made by local commissioners, and subject to approval by NHS England.
The Hurley Group is a large scale GP provider, based in London. The organisation launched online consultation platform eConsult in 2010. The platform allows patients to access online triage tool which links to their GP practice.
The national commissioner has collected data on the provision of online consultations as part of new collection to monitor GPs’ progress in transforming services.
It showed that just one in 10 GP practices are providing online consultations despite a national drive to encourage their use.
In the GP Forward View, published in April 2016, NHS England announced a £45m fund to “stimulate uptake of online consultations systems for every practice”.
According to data obtained by HSJ through a Freedom of Information Act request, fewer than 10 per cent (457 out of 6,721), were offering online consultations by April 2018.
However, a further 4,508 are predicted to go live with online consultations by 2020. About 1,500 practices said they had “no current plan” to introduce online consultations.
In 2017-18, which was the first year of the five year funding plan, about a quarter of the £45m fund (£11m) was allocated to 135 local clinical commissioning groups. It is unclear how much of this was actually spent.
Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the British Medical Association’s general practice committee, said: “As this data shows, only a limited amount of funding has been made available to support the universal provision of the necessary infrastructure to enable all practices to be able to offer online services to their patients.”
The roll out of up-to-date digital options would be dependent on the NHS having a clearly funded plan to deliver this, he added.
When asked about this NHS England points to the commitments made in the GP Forward View but did not respond to specific questions.
The news comes following increased scrutiny over online GP services. In his first speech as health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock said he would like to see more technology like smart phone apps, which allows patients to access video consultations, available across the country.
Data obtained from NHS England under FOI