• Seventeen CCGs say they have spoken to Babylon regarding GP at hand or other digital services
  • Documents reveal plans to expand into Southampton and Leeds
  • FOI requests reveal CCGs slowing company’s expansion
  • Comes after secretary of state Matt Hancock endorses expansion of GP at Hand

Digital health company Babylon Healthcare has contacted more than a dozen clinical commissioning groups as it pushes for expansion across the country, including extending its NHS GP partnership to two new cities.

HSJ can also reveal for the first time that GP at Hand, Babylon’s digital partnership with a GP practice in South West London, has been planning an expansion into Southampton and Leeds.

Dozens of CCG documents, released under Freedom of Information laws, also show the company has often struggled against local opposition and regulatory roadblocks.

The response from 182 CCGs, covering the first six months of 2018, show at least 17 CCGs haves met or corresponded with the company.

Health and social secretary Matt Hancock gave a speech at Babylon’s office last week, in which he said he wanted to help Babylon, and its competitors, expand their reach in the NHS. He also praised NHS England officials for assisting the company’s expansion thus far.

HSJ has previously reported on a planned expansion into Birmingham, which has since been blocked, but the push into Leeds and Southampton has not been reported until now.

Emails show that in May this year, Southampton City CCG raised concerns about the London based digital first practice’s ability to service the city from a single local branch.

“We require assurance that your proposed service development will ensure the safety, health and wellbeing of people living in our city prior to us giving them support,” the CCG told the company.

“We feel that the geographic situation demography and local health and care environment of Southampton are all significantly different to those for your previous development in London.”

HSJ can also reveal the identity of the community and mental health provider in East London that has been refusing to accept referrals from locally residing NHS patients registered with GP at hand.

Emails show Compass Wellbeing blaming the problem on Tower Hamlets CCG, telling GP at Hand that the CCG had refused to pay for the care.

In response to HSJ, Compass Wellbeing’s clinical director, Ruth Cohen, said the CCG had said it ”required us to remain in scope of the existing contract (i.e. TH CCG GP registered IAPT attributable patients, over 18 years)” citing “the re-procurement process that was in progress at that time”.

Compass Wellbeing has since lost the contract, and the service will switch to another provider, East London Foundation Trust, at the end of the month.

The CCG told HSJ: ”We worked with H&F CCG to find a way forward by offering to identify a local provider via an alternative contract. This was because the incumbent provider’s contract was coming to an end and we were aware of some access issues that would have delayed treatment and impacted on patients’ experience.”

The new provider would accept GP at Hand patients, the CCG said.

Other correspondence between Babylon and CCGs:

  • Babylon made Freedom of Information Act requests and lodged complaints with four London CCGs (Barnet, Enfield, Hackney and City, and Islington) after GP at Hand was prevented from opening three new London clinics earlier this year. Opening new clinics allows the company to expand its potential catchment area of patients.
  • Southwark CCG told Babylon that “with regret” it was withdrawing from a partnership to use digital technology to improve asthma care. In January, the CCG told the company: “The launch of Babylon’s GP at Hand service late last year has impacted on the confidence of practices to continue to work with Babylon on this project… We regret not being able to move this work to a pilot project and wish you well with future ventures in AI.”
  • As previously reported by HSJ, Birmingham and Solihull CCG has raised concerns about GP at Hand’s expansion into Birmingham. This has since been blocked by Hammersmith and Fulham CCG, on advice from NHS England.
  • Broader meetings with at least two CCGs (Knowsley, Stafford and Surrounds CCG) about using Babylon’s technology, such as mobile based video GP consultations.

In response to HSJ, a Babylon spokesman said the company did not comment on correspondence with individual CCGs.

However, he added: “Commissioners have known for more than nine months of the proposed national expansion of GP at Hand. The NHS has not been able to put in place the screening arrangements that enable this.

“As a result, the choice of GP practice promised by the NHS to people across the country is being held back and the opportunity to reduce pressure on primary care and A&Es is being missed.”

“We hope this issue will be resolved without further delay so that safe, effective and extremely convenient primary care can become a reality for anyone who chooses it.”

Several CCGs that have not responded or refused HSJ’s request for information are known to have also had contact with Babylon or GP at Hand.

These include Hammersmith and Fulham CCG, which is the main commissioner for GP at Hand, and several CCGs in London involved in other Babylon NHS digital partnerships.