Aon Employee Benefits, the UK health and benefits business of Aon plc (NYSE: AON), says that the roll-out of a new NHS initiative across zones 1-3 in London NHS Trusts has immediate impacts for employers and employees in the area, as well as longer-term impacts nationwide. The service, called GP at Hand, is described as an ‘inexorable shift’ for connected healthcare and technology in Aon’s report, Digital GPs and the NHS. Indeed, in the Autumn Budget, Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, pledged investment into technology and health, asserting this as an inevitable direction of travel for the UK.
The report explains that employees that live and work in zones 1-3 will effectively need to make a choice between remaining with their current general practitioner (GP) or leaving this service behind and signing up with the new one. Alongside this consideration, digital services are less likely to resolve complex cases, and the scope of the service won’t cover some cases, certain people or conditions. There are, however, many benefits, not least faster access to a GP, convenience and peace of mind for a greater number of concerns.
For employers with London-based workers, there are also implications.
Mark Witte, head of healthcare & risk consulting at Aon Employee Benefits, described GP at Hand as a watered-down version of the full private service currently offered by many employers.
“Key advantages of a digital GP service include reduced time that employees need to be out of work attending appointments, an opportunity for employers to enhance their wellbeing proposition as well as faster and more consistent access to medical care for employees.
“However, employers need to consider how they provide a digital GP service to their employees and whether this new service offers a viable alternative to a paid-for service. Particularly important is that employees working at companies offering a private (voluntary or paid-for) service don’t need to leave their GP to use it, while they will with GP at Hand. This may leave some individuals in a worse position, perhaps travelling further afield to visit another GP who doesn’t have first-hand experience of their medical history.
“Employers with staff based outside the catchment area will have to consider how to best integrate what is currently a local initiative with their national wellbeing strategy. Ultimately a full assessment of exactly what an employer requires from a digital GP and how it effectively integrates with their health and wellbeing strategy should form the basis of decisions.”
Data from Aon’s recent UK Health Survey showed that 96% of organisations either agree or strongly agree that they are responsible for improving employee health behaviour, while 96% also recognise a direct correlation between employee health and performance. On top of this, 95% of employers are concerned about the current and future issues of employee mental health. This is significant considering the Royal College of GPs flag that certain conditions including frailty, pregnancy and mental health conditions are not currently eligible for the GP at Hand service.
“While this initial roll-out may have its limitations, it is a statement on direction of travel, supporting the inexorable shift for healthcare and technology to become ever more connected. Concerns over this service being appropriate for only certain sections of the demographic should be lauded as an inevitable conclusion of an age increasingly distinguished by strengthening themes of choice, segmentation and personalisation.
“Admittedly, in the public sector at the very least, this progress will need to be balanced alongside the more fundamental structural and funding issues facing the NHS. Indeed, in 2016 in England, nearly 100 GP practices closed (the majority completely rather than merged with others), leaving more than a quarter of a million people without a GP. Specifically in London, 20% of GP surgeries are predicted to close over the next two-three years.”