The official independent evaluation of Babylon GP at Hand has been published, giving a mixed review of a service that is popular with patients and GPs but unlikely to be something with potential to be rolled out more widely across the UK.

According to Babylon the review into the outcomes and risks of the digital-first provider showed that the service saves the NHS time and money. It claimed that the review showed “how our GPs enjoy their work, aren’t becoming burned out and how our digital-first approach may even be a way of encouraging GPs to stay in the profession”.

The GP at Hand practice is located in Fulham providing services to approximately 50,000 patients under the terms of a General Medical Services (GMS) contract.

GPs have argued that the findings of the review, commissioned by Hammersmith and Fulham clinical commissioning group (CCG) and conducted by Ipsos Mori, highlighted their long-held concerns. The more negative elements of the review found GP at Hand posed certain problems, including luring GPs away from traditional general practice during a recruitment crisis; administrative issues and lack of continuity meaning patients experienced a reduction in the quality of service; and that the digital-first provider “experiences higher de-registration rates than the London average, with patients most commonly de-registering after two weeks”.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said the report “provides clear evidence backing many of the concerns we have been raising for some time about GP at Hand”.

BMA General Practitioners’ Committee Chair Dr Richard Vautrey highlighted the speed with which large numbers of patients had deregistered, only to re-register with their previous practice. He added: “As this report makes clear, this is a service used by predominantly young, healthy and affluent individuals, who appear to be looking for rapid answers to health questions and issues, and are using this service as they would NHS 111, choosing convenience over longer-term quality and continuity of care.”

The evaluation also suggested that GP at Hand’s model, based on serving patients through digital services across wide geographical areas, may also be a problem for new primary care networks.

However, the report praised some elements of GP at Hand, saying the NHS could learn from the service’s recruitment model and the features that are attracting GPs to it, as well as the fact that the “majority of patients were positive about their overall experience” of the service, with 85% rating their overall experience as “good”.

The report also suggested that a different funding model would be needed if a wider roll-out were to go ahead. The report stated: “The current funding formula is based on a number of factors including population demographic and illness profiles, but it does not take into account demand for services. The evaluation has shown that GP at Hand patients have better health than comparable patients using traditional primary care but that they are higher users of primary care.”

The report concluded that further research would be required to understand “whether the higher use of primary care services was a product of specific health concerns or simply due to better accessibility”.

The Evaluation of Babylon GP at Hand: Final EvaluationReport is available at www.hammersmithfulhamccg.nhs.uk.

Last reviewed 28 May 2019