Daily Mail Newspaper - November 2015
We were contacted by a whistleblower concerned about GPs leaving surgeries to conduct Skype-type private sessions from their homes.
The whistleblower was concerned it meant there were less GPs for those who couldn't afford this private webcam session which costs £30 a consultation and that the service could miss vital signs of illnesses.
We investigated and got the Daily Mail newspaper on board, resulting in the following story:
The doctor will see you now (if you call him on the webcam): Patients pay £30 for virtual chat with private GP on £180k a year
Patients are paying £30 for a virtual chat with a private GP on a webcam
Doctors being paid £180,000 a year to offer appointments from their homes
Growing numbers are willing to pay to get face-to-face appointment quickly
But experts say Skype-style patient appointments are potentially unsafe
Doctors are being paid £180,000 a year to carry out webcam appointments from their homes.
They are quitting surgeries to work for private firms that charge patients £30 for a 20-minute online consultation.
Growing numbers of patients are willing to pay these fees as it is so difficult to get a face-to-face appointment quickly. Many have to wait three weeks for a consultation and at some surgeries the only way to guarantee being seen is to queue outside at dawn.
But experts say Skype-style appointments are potentially unsafe as doctors are unfamiliar with patients and may miss vital symptoms.
A similar scheme is being introduced by police in Cambridgeshire. Instead of officers going to a crime scene, victims are being urged to give details over Skype.
Surgeries across England are in crisis with rising numbers of GPs retiring early, pursuing careers overseas or quitting to be locums. Campaigners fear practices are being left more short-staffed by doctors leaving to work for firms offering online consultations.
One, Talktoadoctor.co.uk, is recruiting GPs to earn £180,000 a year from home. Bosses say demand has trebled in three years due to ‘widespread frustration’ among patients unable to get appointments at surgeries.
They are charged £30 for a 20-minute webcam consultation or pay for it as part of a health insurance package, typically £1,600 a year.
Some GPs work full-time while others are combining shifts with part-time work at a surgery.
Dr Maureen Baker, of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: ‘At a time of severe GP shortages … anything that takes GPs away from frontline patient care … is extremely worrying.’
Katherine Murphy, of the Patients Association, said: ‘We are very worried that GPs are being taken out of very busy surgeries. Having the patient in front of you is extremely important as you develop a rapport and spot symptoms you wouldn’t pick up over Skype.’
Patient Concern’s Roger Goss added: ‘Why should doctors be able to make so much money for not even seeing patients face to face?’
Talktoadoctor.co.uk has 750 part and full-time GPs giving webcam consultations.
A recent job listing promises successful salaries of ‘over £180k per annum’ for working from home. Recruits will be paid a £1,000 bonus for passing online training first time.
The firm is also advertising for GPs to work part-time or adhoc shifts. They can earn up to £1,000 a month though bosses would not disclose the hourly rate.
The company uses a similar webcam system to Skype, whereby doctors speak to patients anywhere in the UK over the phone while assessing them on a computer screen.
Managing director Doniert MacFarlane insisted that if patients had any particularly worrying symptoms they would be told to see a GP face to face.
Another firm, Push Doctor, charges patients £25 for a ten-minute webcam consultation. A third company, Medelinked, last month announced it would offer more webcam consultations.
Dr Richard Vautrey, of the British Medical Association, said: ‘There is always a risk that doctors are providing services to individuals they don’t really know. Doctors aren’t able to provide them with the safest advice.’