Private companies hoping to attract patients away from their current GP to sign on with digital GP services, were dealt a blow by a change to funding rules this week.

NHS England announced that under the new GP contract, private companies providing the new ‘digital-first’ GP services will typically receive around 20% less income.

NHS England are aiming to protect GP practices from a loss of income because of the precedent set by Babylon Health, a private company that has been marketing online GP services and video appointments to NHS patients.

The private company has signed up 30,000 people who live across London or who work in the capital, to its GP at Hand service. Patients have to de-register from their current local GP to join the digital service, which runs out of a GP surgery in Fulham in West London.

The company’s patients are predominantly younger and fitter than those registered at the average GP surgery and the company has been accused of destabilising the payment system in London and of ‘cherry-picking’ and undermining the integrity of the NHS.

The decision is a reward for local campaigners such as the Tower Hamlets KONP group who have organised protests around GP at Hand practices

Tower Hamlets LMC chair Dr Jackie Applebee, a local GP and taking part in the protest said GP at Hand ‘seems to be deliberately targeting healthy young people’ taking money from the NHS, by picking the most profitable patients’.

The changes announced in the GP contract will apply from 1 April 2019 and
are being seen as a way to improve the fairness of the funding system and avoid such issues in the future.

At present, Babylon Health is the only company that has taken advantage of a rule that allow patients to register with a GP surgery despite outside of their catchment area.

NHS England has said that a hypothetical future “digital first” GP practice that covered all of England would receive about 20% less funding under the rule changes.

However, Babylon Health face a further threat to their business strategy would be changes to the current rules on catchment area, which allow patients to register with a GP outside of the area in which they live.

This rule has been key to Babylon’s expansion, but NHS England has announced a review.

Babylon Health has accused NHS England of “penalising providers” like them who “have invested in technology” and thinks that it “sends the wrong signal.”

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