Primary Care News

RCGP Chair takes on tech firms who are using ‘bully boy’ tactics and creating a ‘digital divide’ in patient care

The UK’s top GP will hit back at accusations that doctors are ‘technophobic dinosaurs’ who are reluctant to move with the times.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, will accuse wealthy tech companies of creating a ‘digital divide’ as younger and fitter patients are ‘siphoned off’ at the expense of those in greatest need, and then using ‘bully boy tactics’ if anyone challenges their methods.

She will tell the audience of 2,000 GPs and health professionals that far from being ‘afraid’ of innovation, GPs are the champions of safe technology – but the sky-high costs of trying to keep up with private companies is impossible.

She will sound a warning that the ways in which some privately-funded initiatives are being implemented has the potential to exacerbate health inequalities for patients and will call for huge investment in GP technology so that ‘family doctors can deliver safe, effective high-quality care for everyone’.

“Those with the latest smart phone, those who speak English and live in cities, those who have high speed broadband, are being offered something that others are not,” she will say. I believe that with the right use of technology in the future NHS we can actually aim to reduce health inequalities and counteract some of the adverse social determinants of health. But GPs on the frontline just can’t afford the investment in technology, most of us aren’t being propped up by wealthy venture capitalists, after all. We need technology that works for patients, makes our lives easier and is not lining the pockets of private investors at the expense of the NHS.”

Pushing back at accusations that general practice isn’t moving with the times, Professor Stokes-Lampard, a practising GP in the Midlands, will argue that where outdated methods are being used in general practice, it is because the profession lacks the resources to update existing technology, or implement new technology.

Her comments come as the College published the results of a poll of 1,216 GPs showing that almost a quarter of GPs who think that running their GP practice is unsustainable in the long term, cite technology costs as a reason – a figure that has doubled in 18 months as technology in the NHS has become more prominent.

“I get really exasperated when I hear accusations that GPs are technophobic dinosaurs. What utter nonsense. GPs are not ‘afraid’ of technology or innovation. But robots don’t come cheap, tech costs money, and for GP practices that are already on the brink, implementing new, good technology is unfeasible.”

She will also renew the College’s calls for a robust, independent evaluation of GP at Hand to assure patients it is safe.

“We need rapid, independent and scientific way to evaluate new innovations, such as online consulting options, software, apps and wearables, so that we can swiftly, safely and effectively establish which is the good new technology. Give us the IT tools we need in a way that does not put our existing services at risk –  in a way that benefits all our patients and makes our working lives easier,” she will say.

Professor Stokes-Lampard will call on the four governments of the UK to invest in medical technology to support GPs and make the NHS the market leader so that family doctors can deliver safe, effective high-quality care for everyone.