Labour has accused the Health Secretary of “a huge threat to patient safety” after he endorsed a medical app despite safety fears raised by doctors.
Matt Hancock came under fire after he praised GP at Hand – run by private firm Babylon Health – which uses artificial intelligence to assess symptoms and offers video or telephone consultations with doctors.
At an event in June, he said he was longer registered with a physical GP, saying: “My GP is through the NHS on Babylon Health – it’s brilliant.”
But the app has been criticised by doctors for allegedly failing to spot serious medical problems.
Some have also raised concerns that it is “cherry-picking” younger, generally healthy patients – leaving GP surgeries with older patients and those with more complex conditions.
The NHS has held back from extending a trial of the app in central London pending the results of an independent evaluation into its impact on patient safety and health funding, due next year.
Justin Madders, Labour’s health spokesman, said: “There is a huge threat to patient safety from the health secretary's rush to endorse privately run, online GP services without proper mechanisms in place to protect patients.
“What's more, he is openly endorsing the use of services from a private health firm where patients are encouraged to pay for a GP appointment.
“There are serious questions to be answered about why Matt Hancock is going out his way to endorse this private service which has been so roundly criticised on safety grounds by actual doctors.”
Evaluation results pending
Hancock’s praise for GP at Hand came while he was still Culture Secretary, but he also gave a speech at Babylon Health’s London headquarters earlier this month.
He told staff that he wanted to help the company expand “so loads of companies can come do what Babylon are doing”, according to the respected Health Service Journal.
The Department of Health and Social Care rejected the criticism, saying: “GP at Hand has proved beneficial for many patients who want quick and easy access to their GP”.
Babylon Health told The Times it was confident that the evaluation would “demonstrate the benefits to clinical quality, safety and convenience that our service is delivering to 30,000-plus members.”
But Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “We are concerned that the service has not yet been independently evaluated in terms of its impact on patient safety, and that the way it targets new patients destabilises traditional general practice services.”