Babylon’s NHS arm GP at Hand is due to pull out of Birmingham at the end of next month, with 5,000 patients told they need to register elsewhere.
The financially strapped first digital healthcare provider (see sidebar) told Pulse its Birmingham operation is ‘no longer financially sustainable’, with virtual provision for the city, as well as its only physical clinic, due to close on 30 of November.
The company, which first expanded to Birmingham in 2019he said this is part of a strategy to “reduce” unprofitable NHS contracts, however he stressed that he remains committed to his NHS GP bid in the UK.
A Babylon spokesman said: “We will be closing our GP at the Hand clinic in Birmingham this fall, which cares for approximately 5,000 patients in the West Birmingham and Solihull area.”
“As a priority, we will ensure the safe and smooth transition of all our Birmingham patients to the care of other local GP practices.”
As well as the GP at the start of Hand’s Birmingham, Babylon has It has also recently finalized contracts with The Royal Wolverhampton Trust and University Hospitals Birmingham Foundation Trust.
The spokesman said: “With the funding pressures the NHS is under and capital costs rising, we have decided that these partnerships are no longer financially sustainable as we focus on the long-term financial viability of Babylon.” .
They added that these contracts and services collectively represent less than 1% of Babylon UK’s income, with the other 99% coming from its other income and private contracts from GP at Hand NHS.
NHS Birmingham and Solihull ICB said they are ‘working closely’ with Babylon and NHS North West London ICB ‘to ensure patients currently cared for by the GP at Hand clinic in Birmingham can receive the care they need in an alternative location convenient to to them’.
The ICB spokesperson said the GP at Hand patient list is spread across Birmingham, adding: “All patients have been contacted to inform them of the closure and the need to register elsewhere, and we are providing additional support to patients to help them find a suitable alternative. to ensure they continue to have access to the services they need.’
NHS North West London ICB, hosting Babylon’s NHS GP contractsaid it is “supporting patients affected by GP At Hand’s decision to close its Birmingham services to find alternative local provision as quickly as possible”.
Babylon said ‘GP At Hand services in London remain unchanged, with the company ‘fully committed to maintaining the NHS GP at Hand service in the UK’.
However, the number of clinics in London has been reduced from seven in 2020 to five current locations.
Babylon’s spokesperson said: ‘GP at Hand aims to put the most accessible, high-quality, safe and effective NHS GP service in the hands of every person who chooses to register.
‘We remain committed to providing high-quality, accessible care to more than 380,000 patients in the UK.
‘In the NHS, we serve over 115,000 patients and feedback from recent GP patient surveys shows we are providing excellent services.’
In May of this year, Babylon’s CEO, Dr. Ali Parsa, said that the company must be ‘very careful’ about expanding its GP services in the UK as it loses money on every patient.
Birmingham LMC Chairman Dr Gavin Ralston said: “Presumably those patients can go back to their original practice but with general practice being very busy at the moment some will have to look at the size of their lists and know that they can cope with these additional patients and still provide a safe service.
‘I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a higher concentration of GP at Hand patients around the clinic.
‘[The clinic closure] probably have less impact than closing a traditional general practice.
“It is interesting that such a well-funded experiment in providing digital GP services (well suited in theory for a place like Birmingham) has not been successful. It suggests that digital first is not what people want.
‘With the changes that have come about due to Covid, many general practices have overtaken GP at Hand and offer the best of both worlds.
“We were quite concerned when they came in, because they were able to pick out younger patients who want easy access, leaving general practices with older patients who can’t use this type of service. That was potentially destabilizing for general practices in the city. The fact that it hasn’t worked is a feather in the hat for general practice.
BMA GPC England President Dr Farah Jameel said: “Patients will be concerned about what the GP closure at Hand’s Birmingham clinic means for their health and how this matter will be addressed.”
“At a time of immense pressure on general practice, any sudden influx of patients onto practice rosters, if not managed and planned for, will put even greater pressure on services. It will have a dramatic impact on GPs’ ability to care for patients and will increase their workload as they tackle staffing shortages and increasing backlogs of care. Therefore, it is essential that there is a local plan to safely transfer patients to practices, without overwhelming surgeries.
‘This situation is not fair to patients or the doctors who treat them, which is precisely why the BMA questioned the viability of GP at Hand in the first place. The scheme has been rushed without proper evaluation, threatens place-based community care and complicates local funding arrangements. Now, you’re actively jeopardizing patient safety by abandoning patients and simply waiting for practices to do the extra work.
‘What we need is for general practice to be properly resourced, to invest in its properties, to improve its IT so that more surgeries can offer remote appointments to those who prefer it, and more GPs so that all our patients can receive care. they need, when they need it. This is the solution: don’t implement schemes that dance around real problems and ultimately fail. There is a desperate need for responsible and ethical decisions about how public funds are spent. Faced with a shrinking workforce, government and policymakers have the choice to invest in the right service the first time and focus each physician’s time and energy on providing safe and effective patient care.’
Babylon’s financial problems
Babylon Holdings Limited has struggled financially for some time, incurring a loss of $374.5 million last year and $188.0 million in 2020, according to Companies House, with the full accounts of Babylon Healthcare Services Limited, the arm under which GP at Hand operates, acknowledging that it “depends on the financial support” of Babylon Holdings Limited.
The accounts say ‘there is no assurance that additional funds will be available on acceptable terms’, and say that ‘there are material uncertainties (ability to raise further capital) related to events or conditions that may cast significant doubt on the group’s ability to continue as a going concern and therefore continue to realize its assets and discharge its liabilities in the normal course of business.’
Since August 8, shares of Babylon Holdings Limited have been selling for less than $1 on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), falling from $0.98 on August 8 to $0.47 on October 3, far below below the NYSE requirement that companies maintain average closing stock. price of at least $1 for 30 consecutive days.
Babylon told Pulse that it is “taking active steps and will continue to consider further opportunities to maximize shareholder value.”
The spokesman said: ‘Babylon’s focus will remain on delivering on its promise, maintaining its quality and moving closer to profitability.
‘Babylon will continue to work with our NHS partners to redefine how primary care is delivered in the UK. We look forward to providing exceptional service and setting new standards in the healthcare experience for our patients.”