NHS launches app offering 24-hour GP consultations

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The NHS has launched the ‘GP at Hand’ smartphone application, which will enable patients to video-call a GP at any time of day.

The mobile application will enable users to check their symptoms prior to a video consultation, and speak to a physician within 2 hours of booking an appointment.

The ‘GP at Hand’ application will first be piloted in London in a scheme including 3.5 million participants across West London.

The free scheme has been established by a group of London-based GPs and the healthcare provider Babylon.

Dr Mobasher Butt, a member of the ‘GP at Hand’ service, said: ‘It's high time that NHS patients were given the opportunity to benefit from technology to improve access to healthcare.

‘We've benefited from this kind of technology in so many different aspects of our lives, whether that be shopping or banking, and it's really time that we were able to do that in healthcare for NHS patients.’

Jane Barnacle, Regional Director of Patients and Information at NHS England, also reported on the benefits of the application, including its ability to relieve time pressures on NHS healthcare staff.

However, concerns have been raised about the safety of a consultation that is not carried out face-to-face. Professor Helen-Stokes Lampard, Chair of Royal College of GPs, said: ‘Technology can achieve wonderful things when used properly, but we are really worried that schemes like this are creating a twin-track approach to NHS general practice and that patients are being “cherry-picked”, which could actually increase the pressures on traditional GPs based in the community.’

Prof Stoke-Lampard acknowledged the long waiting times currently faced by patients to see a GP, but warned that a more ‘convenient’ online service may compromise patient safety. She highlighted that many elderly patients with complicated care needs benefit from the consistency of care provided by local general practices.

Prof Stoke-Lampard continued: ‘While this scheme is backed by the NHS and offers a free service to patients, it is undoubtedly luring GPs away from front-line general practice at a time when we are facing a severe workforce crisis and hardworking GPs are struggling to cope with immense workloads.’