Webwatch: Warning GP App could miss meningitis and heart attack symptoms

Fears have been raised over a new GP app missing symptoms of deadly illnesses by a former GP turned senior Tory MP.

New Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons one in four patients are now registered for online services to access a GP, including the popular Babylon app.

But Sarah Wollaston, chairwoman of the Health Select Committee, told Mr Hancock the app could be missing symptoms of meningitis and heart attacks and appealed for a greater emphasis on safety.

Dr Wollaston said: “He will know there is no regulator prospectively examining the safety and effectiveness of diagnostic apps in use in the NHS.

“I wrote to his predecessor recently following concerns raised with me about Babylon apps, which could be missing symptoms, for example of meningitis and heart attack.

“Will he set out what steps he is going to take to make sure that in rolling out these technologies patients have absolute confidence they have been properly evaluated for safety and effectiveness and could he set out how he will take that forward?”

Mr Hancock said he was in contact with NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens on the issue and would be looking to update the rules around new technology.

He said: “Challenges such as the one she raises are not a reason to reject the technology.

“The opposite: It is to keep improving the technology so it gets better and better and make sure the rules keep up to pace.”

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth later said GPs are worried about the patient safety and funding implications linked to the app.

He said: “When Babylon themselves admits they are still testing it out, when Hammersmith CCG says there is evidence of concern regarding risk to patient safety of expanding the service and Birmingham CCG questions whether Babylon can operate in an effective and safe manner, why is he dismissing these concerns about patient safety – saying rules just simply need to be updated?”

Mr Hancock said getting more resources into primary care, and GPs in particular, is “absolutely mission critical” to the long-term sustainability of the NHS.

He added: “On the question of new technology… yes it’s important to make sure that it works well and the rules are right.

“But if we turn our backs on new technology, we’re turning our backs on better care.”

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