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Avoiding the GP

NHS patient trials of a 24-hour smartphone GP service could help over a third of Brits who refuse to see a doctor when feeling unwell, and instead suffer in silence.

The ‘GP at Hand’ pilot scheme offers consultations to 3.5 million patients in London within two hours of them submitting symptoms via a mobile app. Although the Royal College of GPs warns it may not help in complex situations, many hope it will alleviate waiting times and improve the health of those who routinely dodge the doctor.

According to research conducted by www.doctor-4-u.co.uk*, 38.9 per cent of people admit they have, at one point or another, decided against seeking medical help. Of those, over a third were too embarrassed and a similar amount (35.22%) said they just didn’t want to bother a professional.

Pharmacist and CEO of www.chemist-4-u.com Shamir Patel warns that people put themselves at serious risk by not consulting a doctor, but online services could help them. He said: “What might seem like nothing can actually turn into a serious problem if you fail to see a doctor about it. While people often find seeking medical help embarrassing, it is worth it in the long run when you could be preventing something life-threatening. Even if you’d prefer not to see your GP in person, alternatives to a traditional visit to your local practice can offer exactly the same results."

Services like www.doctor-4-u.co.uk or Babylon’s ‘GP at Hand’ require little more than an internet connection to get a simple diagnosis. He added: “There’s nothing wrong with a consultation that takes place online. If we’ve got the technology available, we may as well use it. Anything that doesn’t need a physical examination can be done on Skype, or something similar. Anyone in opposition needs to accept we are entering a new age of health care which could help thousands who often decide they don’t want to bother a medical professional. It’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your wellbeing.”

The free ‘GP at Hand’ service has been set up by online healthcare provider Babylon in cooperation with a group of practices in central London. Those who join will have their records transferred to a number of GPs in the city, and can expect to get an appointment within two hours of submitting their symptoms.

Shamir Patel also says online services will ease a staffing crisis that is driving up waiting times by 15 per cent every year. By 2022, it’s been predicted that waiting times will hit three weeks for non-emergency appointments. He added: “A lot of people think they won’t get the same level of service, but in those circumstances it’s the mindset that needs to change. It will save both time and money. A doctor can get through a whole lot more appointments doing it online. Push Doctor charges by the minute, and gets through more people in an hour because of that. This pilot scheme is a step in the right direction, but as a whole the NHS needs to wake up to technology a bit.”

Dr Mobasher Butt is part of Babylon, the team working on the ‘GP at Hand’ service, and says the NHS properly incorporating technology is long overdue. He told the BBC: "We've benefited from this kind of technology in so many different aspects of our lives, whether that be shopping or banking, and it's really time that we were able to do that in healthcare for NHS patients.” The team behind ‘GP to Hand’ also refuted claims from the British Medical Association that its approach would undermine the quality of care ‘and further fragment the service’.

*The survey conducted by www.doctor-4-u.co.uk asked 1,000 people from all over the UK about how often and how inclined they were to visit their GP.