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NHS starts offering GP appointments via video call

The doctor will Skype you now.
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Babylon Health

You're often more likely to win a scratchcard jackpot than get a short-notice appointment at your local GP, so it's no surprise there are now a number of services offering nigh immediate, private consultations via smartphone video chat. Babylon Health is one such service that's just become available on the NHS, meaning eligible patients can book a free video consultation and chat to a GP within two hours, and sometimes much sooner. GPs can make referrals, send prescriptions to a nearby pharmacy, and users can rewatch consultations and review the doctor's notes at any time within the app.

The new service is called "GP at Hand," and is initially available in London before it expands across the country "in the near future." When you register via Babylon's mobile app, your smartphone becomes your new local GP -- in other words, you can't just pop 'round the corner to your family doctor anymore. Instead, a video consultation is your first port of call, but if you do need a face-to-face appointment for whatever reason, you can book one at several central London GP practices.

The number of these is due to grow in the future, but for now there are six locations, with a few situated near major commuting hubs like King's Cross, Victoria and Canary Wharf. And if you're not sure whether you even need to chat to a GP, you can use the in-app AI chatbot to talk through your symptoms and get immediate advice -- the same chatbot the NHS has been testing as a complementary service to its 111 non-emergency helpline.

The obvious benefits of free video consultations through the NHS are patients can see a GP quicker than they might be able to otherwise, and surgeries will be less burdened with a backlog of appointments. The Royal College of General Practitioners agrees that online appointments will work for some, but understands that older patients and those with complex conditions often want "continuity of care" that an app can't provide.

"We are also concerned that patients are being given the option of switching back to their local surgery if they are not satisfied with the level of service offered by the app. As well as issues with patient confidentiality and the safety of the patient record, it is hard to see how this could be achieved without adding to the huge burden of red tape that GPs are already grappling with."

"While this scheme is backed by the NHS and offers a free service to patients, it is undoubtedly luring GPs away from frontline general practice at a time when we are facing a severe workforce crisis and hardworking GPs are struggling to cope with immense workloads."

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