Doctors stage protest over health app ‘destabilising and privatising’ the NHS

Protestors outside Newby Place Health and Wellbeing Centre. pic: Gina Gambetta

Dozens of people, including doctors and medical staff from across London joined a protest by Tower Hamlets GPs against an app which they claim is threatening the NHS.

The protest at Canary Wharf on Thursday targetted two GP surgeries run by private healthcare provider Babylon Health, the same company behind GP at Hand, an app which they claim is privatising the NHS, destabilising local surgeries, and excluding the chronically ill.

Dr Jackie Applebee, a local GP and chair of Doctors Unite, led the protest. She told Eastlondonlines: “The accelerating rate of the privatisation of the NHS, of which ‘GP at Hand’ is a prime example, is creating a two-tier health service which undermines the fundamental ethos of the NHS.”

Dr Jackie Applebee speaking to protestors. Pic: Gina Gambetta

The app is free to use and delivers patients with virtual access to a GP. To date, it has 60,000 users in London and Birmingham, with 6,000 from Tower Hamlets.

The interface of GP at Hand pic: Babylon Health Press Package

GPs claim that the app is predominantly used by the relatively healthy, young and rich; it doesn’t support those with longer-term health problems, the elderly, and pregnant women, as their needs are more complex. This claim is supported by evidence within the Ipsos Mori report.

The app , they say, is funnelling important money away from GP practices; with fewer healthy and young people registered at their local GP, the practice has less leftover funding available to care for the old and chronically sick.

Dr Yvette Saldanah, a GP from Barnett, told Eastlondonlines: “The chronically ill and elderly require physical examinations, health visits, and have complex medical reviews. These quickie consultations are not for them. I’ve been a GP for thirty years, some of the patients you treat from when they are young until they are adults. You form relationships and trust with them, the app takes this all away.”

Dr Archana Spahn, GP at Ruston Street Clinic, told Eastlondonlines: “[The] higher powers [at NHS England] are doing backdoor privatisation without transparency. We’re not anti-tech, we have e-consultations, we communicate with patients via SMS, and we have a Tower Hamlets digital group.”

Dr Phillip Bennett-Richards, GP at Aberfeldy Practice in Poplar told Eastlondonlines: “Its destabilising local general practices.”

The protest began outside Newby Place Health and Wellbeing Centre, in Poplar, with the GPs singing the junior doctors protest song ‘Yours’, which includes the lyrics: “Don’t take our rights away…we are your doctors, let’s keep it that way.” They also sang their own rendition of ‘By the Rivers of Babylon.’

Dr Stuart Bingham, GP at the Barkantine Practice, Isle of Dogs, holding the new ‘By the Rivers of Babylon’ lyrics pic: Gina Gambetta

Protesters marched to LycaHealth, Westferry Circus, where there is another surgery run by GP at Hand. Along the way they chanted: “NHS not for Sale”, “Boris Johnson you will fail”, and “No ifs, no buts, no Tory health cuts.”

Protestors marching to Westferry Circus pic: Gina Gambetta
Protestors marching to Westferry Circus pic: Gina Gambetta

Protestors then went to the site of the new practice in Canary Wharf and staged a peaceful protest outside until moved on by security guards.

Protestors outside LycaHealth, Westferry Circus. Pic: Gina Gambetta

The protest is linked to the national organisation, Keep Our NHS Public, which campaigns against the privatisation and underfunding of the NHS.

Babylon Health told Eastlondonlines: “We welcome every patient who lives or works in the area, regardless of their age, sex or health. According to independent research, commissioned by the NHS (the Ipsos Mori report), 72% of our patients said the care they received with us was better than at their previous practice.”

The report also stated that the app experiences higher de-registration rates than the London average, with patients most commonly de-registering after two weeks.

Tower Hamlets Council and the Department of Health and Social Care declined to comment, citing the purdah restrictions of the General Election.

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