Smart phones are being used for most things. You do not need to visit a bank nowadays, most financial transactions can be done online so why not use your phone instead of visiting your doctor? Numerous private companies have already started offering GP consultations online. Babylon is one that has ‘teamed up with the NHS ‘ and can offer patients the choice to register with them and have their consultations funded by the NHS.
We already have ‘private providers’ working along side traditional suppliers for many aspects of health care. The NHS already pays for private companies to offer scans, physiotherapy services and funds private hospitals to carry out operations to shorten waiting lists. These private providers are often accused of cherry picking patients. For example most private hospitals providing NHS operations have exclusion criteria and will not treat the very elderly, the mentally ill and those with complex medical conditions. These will be left for traditional hospitals to treat. Treatments attract an ‘item of service payment’ so a patient with complex medical problems who may take twice as many days to recover from a hip replacement will attract the same fee as a fit younger patient. Private providers have been accused of cherry picking the easier more profitable patients. Babylon’s GP at hand service states that a consultation will not cost the NHS any more than one at a traditional surgery. However it is younger, fitter, more educated patients who do not require an examination that are likely to consult so they are likely to be attracting the easier patients with simpler problems.
There is a lack of GPs. These companies will employ a lot of GPs, who will consequently do less work for the NHS which may pay them less and provide them with more complex more stressful work. This would exacerbate the NHS GP workforce crisis. GP and journalist Margaret McCartney fears that it may ultimately derail our health service. “These schemes may mean that you end up having to wait even longer to see your NHS GP, as the workforce becomes more depleted,”
The NHS was founded to provide ‘free and equal health care for all’. Margret McCartney states. ”These companies are essentially using market forces to determine access to GPs rather than need. GPs working in these companies will probably make more money and have a less stressful career. However, patients are far less likely to benefit. This might work in your favour if you are basically healthy, need a one-off appointment and have the money to pay to put yourself in the front of the queue. But if you have an ongoing condition, or multiple or complex needs, the research shows that your care will be better if you have continuity and are looked after by a team that can care for you holistically.”