It’s got false economy written all over it

GP Doctors NHS
GP Doctors NHS
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CM Langan

Beauchief, S8

While the NHS continues to crack under pressure, technological companies are attempting to address this issue by inventing online GP services, one example being an app named ‘GP at hand’.

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, sees these as a way forward and says up to 30 million GP appointments a year could be conducted by video link, be it by smartphone, tablet or laptop, as opposed to seeing a GP in person.

To many patients, this seems like the answer to a prayer. For convenience, they’ll give it 10 out of 10. No lengthy waits for an appointment, no long queues at the surgery’s reception desk, no sitting around for what seems like centuries in crowded waiting rooms, full of people coughing and spluttering, babies squalling and kids running rampage. Who wouldn’t want to say goodbye to all that palaver? Similarly, many GPs will also be tempted by more flexible hours and the ability to work from home.

What’s not to like? Well, when you dig deeper, quite a lot. As the Americans say, ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’. There is always a price to pay.

For a start, the online GPs don’t have access to your full medical history or details of any medication you may be on or have been on. Secondly, these apps mainly attract the generally fit and healthy millennials, the types who want to get rid of that lingering cough before the next board meeting or plane to Dubai. As GPs’ surgeries are paid a fixed fee for every patient on their books and some of these apps, I believe, require their clients to deregister with their regular GPs, GP surgeries will lose out on money, therefore having less available to deal with the more complex and/or elderly cases most in need of their care.

Examining patients by video link is cumbersome at best and impossible at worst. For someone with a complaint in an awkward place, (think piles!), it would require a considerable amount of agility to point a camera in the appropriate direction! Also, GPs may not be able to pick up on signs that would be detected in person, like, for instance, the smell of ketones on someone’s breath. With the inability to do on-the-spot urine tests or listen to someone’s chest or heart, things like diabetes or heart problems may be missed and antibiotics may end up being over-prescribed just in case there’s an infection.

They may have a place in straightforward ‘open and shut’ cases, but even they could turn out to be more complex than previously envisaged. S

Think on Matt Hancock! This one has ‘false economy’ written all over it.