A private company which boasts that it will offer GP appointments in the style of the Uber taxi app is preparing to roll out the service across the whole of England.
The Doctaly software has previously been successfully piloted in two north London boroughs, and now its creators wants to widen the scope of the application.
But leaders of GP organisations suggest that the technology could have the effect of destabilising the profession and ultimately undermining the NHS.
In particular there have been suggestions from experts on the health care system that the software encourages queue jumping for patient in a privileged financial position.
Doctaly has been running for the past month at ten practices in the London boroughs of Barnet and Enfield.
Around 50 GPs signed up to offer appointments at various times, and the response to this relatively small-scale trial has initially been positive.
Company founder Ben Teichman refutes suggestions that the service leads to queue jumping, and instead asserts that it can be a positive influence on the culture of the NHS.
“Doctaly is essentially a hybrid service between the NHS and existing private practice making private appointments more affordable, thereby opening them up to a wider audience. It is not about queue jumping. Quite the opposite in fact. It should help drive queues down in surgeries and also take traffic away from A&E. An A&E appointment can cost the NHS £150 and if access wasn’t an issue, many of these patients could have been successfully treated by a GP”.
But Dr Jackie Applebee, chair of Tower Hamlets LMC in east London and Doctors in Unite representative on the GPC, considers the Doctaly app to be very worrying, and suggests that it could make an already serious situation in general practice even worse.
“This is not the answer to the crisis in general practice. I acknowledge that access is a problem, but the fault for this lies at the door of the Government who have disinvested in general practice for years so that we now have an unprecedented workforce crisis. This sort of service is the slippery slope towards privatisation of the NHS. It introduces the principle of topping up NHS services with purchased services if one has the disposable income. If the more affluent begin to do this in significant numbers it is only a small step to an insurance-based health service”.
And the comments of Applebee were supported by GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey, who suggested that the app ultimately poses numerous questions for NHS patients.
“Patients want and deserve a properly funded NHS GP service, based on the registered list, so they can get appropriate timely access to their local GP and that practices have the resources and capacity to offer this. While patients can access and pay for private GPs or consultants, the risk is a more fragmented service and patients having remote consultations with doctors they don’t know and who won’t have full access to their NHS medical record”.
Patients can utilise the Doctaly website in order to select a doctor and book a 15-minute appointment slot, with payments between £40 and £70 made depending on the time and day of the week.
Effectively, this provides access to GP surgery for patients not registered with a particular practice.