babylon’s expansion intensifies as Hancock pledges support  

Having signed a number of new international partnerships in recent weeks, digital healthcare provider babylon Health has announced that it will invest a further £76m in developing AI-powered healthcare technologies.

The start-up says the new money is part of a long-term strategy to apply the technology to chronic disease management and will see the creation of 1,000 new science and engineering jobs over the coming 12 months.

The news follows a speech by Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured) given at babylon’s headquarters in London yesterday (13th September).

He told the audience, including senior NHS decision makers: ‘We’ve got amazing universities, we’ve got an amazing private health tech start-up eco-system and we have an amazing healthcare system in the NHS.

‘The three of those, supported by government, are going to work together to harness the very best technology on the planet.’

According to HSJ, Hancock told babylon staff that he wanted to help the company expand so that others can ‘do what babylon is doing’ in the NHS.

The Telegraph also reported that the minster wants to see GP at Hand ‘available to all, not just based on postcode’. In publicly backing wider roll out of the scheme he is putting himself at loggerheads with NHS England which just last month blocked the scheme from expanding outside of London citing concerns over patient access.

A user of the app himself, Hancock told the babylon audience that it ‘helps deliver a better service’ and that the rules need to change ‘so some new services can be accommodated, and existing services are protected’.

The British Medical Association has hit out at Hancock’s speech with GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey warning that more funding will be needed to support any large-scale rollout of virtual GP services in the NHS, and that issues of ‘ethics’ and ‘accountability’ must be ‘seriously considered’ first.

He said NHS IT is ‘creaking’ and called for the government to concentrate on ‘getting these basics right’.

‘If this government is to truly revolutionise IT provision in the NHS, it must also invest in national infrastructure, such as rural broadband, on which both care providers and patients rely,’ said Vautrey.

There should also be recognition of the fact that virtual services are not suitable for everybody, he said, including older and vulnerable people most in need of appointments ‘who will be least likely to possess the technology and knowhow needed to access these services’.

‘We support innovation and development, but this cannot come at the cost of basic, face-to-face, holistic care for patients who rely on their GP the most. Patients don’t want their local GP practice replaced by a remote anonymous call centre,’ he added.