In a first for healthcare in Britain, a private, virtual GP service is going to be made available in Sheppey Community NHS Hospital in Kent.
So-called ‘telemedicine’ is the latest appearance in the grim ‘dystopianisation’ of British society and the creeping privatisation of an NHS creaking at the bough because of chronic underfunding.
Telemedicine is, in essence, WebMD… but in real life, and with the ability to draw up a prescription for you.
Its latest iteration is MedicSpot. For £39 a pop, punters can have a Skype screening with a trained GP who will diagnose their ailment and email a prescription to a pharmacist instantaneously, which you can then pay for at the counter.
Until now, MedicSpot has only been available in Pharmacies up and down the country. But now, it’s going to be installed in an NHS hospital; within the bounds of the pharmacy of an NHS hospital in Sheppey, Kent, to be exact.
Its founder, Dr Zubair Ahmed, has said, “we’re not aiming to replace NHS GP surgeries but as doctors we are all concerned about waiting times and the problems this can inevitably cause.”
In essence, if you’re feeling the fallout of austerity; that is, you’re being subjected to waiting times the targets for which Jeremy Hunt just scrapped, or you’re one of the 1 million patients per week unable to get a GP appointment, you can now make the ‘choice’ to pay £39 and have a doctor on the other side of a computer screen run through a 15 minute diagnosis with you before popping out a ‘scrip for pills.
The business has been allowed the infiltrate the Kent NHS hospital because the community pharmacy therein is a private company, able to contract with other private partners.
The MedicSpot kiosk is decked out with all the gadgets and tools necessary to measure your health so that the doctor in the computer can offer you a comprehensive diagnosis: blood pressure cuff, stethoscope, thermometer and a camera.
You can’t blame a capitalist for doing what a capitalist does and exploiting a niche. But the fact remains that MedicSpot’s business model is the exploitation of a crisis in Britain’s pinnacle public service.
GPs across the country have warned that the private ‘healthcare’ provider will undermine the NHS and drive a wedge between providers.
Indeed Dr Jackie Applebee, a GP in Tower Hamlets, said:
“It is bad enough that these services are available in pharmacies, but housing them in NHS hospitals undermines NHS general practice and drives a wedge between primary and secondary care when we should be working together for the good of our patients. […] This is no way to address the crisis in the NHS and these online private services are exploiting the crisis to make a profit. The way to address the crisis is to fund the NHS adequately, to the same levels as comparable countries.”
Of course, the company’s founder insists that MedicSpot is “designed to try and take some pressure away from the NHS and increase capacity in our health system as a whole”.
Except, of course, it’s not. It’s designed to make money. Like any private enterprise is designed to make money. And that means that profits come before patients.
MedicSpot represents an inadequate finger in the NHS dyke, which is currently leaking at a rate of knots. It’s a private company, which involves no cost to Government. It’s signed off by the Quality Care Commission and it means the Tories can continue to blindly wash their hands of the NHS they are systematically destroying.
It means that those patients who have 40 quid handy can opt to pay for private healthcare instead of undergoing the onerous GP and A&E waiting times, and the wait that they would have waited will be removed from official statistics. It’s artificial.
Not only this, but it is a Governmental breach of the social contract. The NHS was created to satisfy the healthcare needs of the British people, and to be free at the point of need. When a Tory Government who deliberately underfunds it and makes no attempt to improve the state of the service allows private providers to fill the gaps left by its mismanagement, it shifts the burden under the guise of free market competition.
It is a devastating dereliction of duty and MedicSpot merely thrives off the desperation of threadbare citizens who will have to scrape already stretched budgets to get the care they need.
There is one final problem.
MedicSpot, essentially, is the exercise of paying a private Doctor to provide you with a prescription. In the US, and increasingly in the UK, the influence of big pharmaceutical companies over Doctors is increasing.
In Australia, pharmaceutical companies paid Doctors $12m in 2017; in the US, the problem of Doctors taking ‘back-handers’ from pharmaceutical companies to up their prescriptions is well-documented; and in the UK, in 2015 ‘Big Pharma’ paid Doctors £340m.
Now, MedicSpot offers pharmaceutical companies a prime opportunity to pay private medical professionals to push their pills. It’s easy, simple and quick. A 15 minute diagnosis where you pay £39 to work all the instruments yourself, the Doctor prescribes you GlaxoSmithKlyne’s best, and you go pay for it. That is healthcare under the Tories. Private Skype Doctors charging you for a slip of paper to allow you to pay for pills.