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Who offers access to GP services and how do they compare?

Who offers access to GP services and how do they compare?

In reading this article you will understand:

  • Which providers offer GP services to protection clients
  • Apart from the insured, who else can access GP services and any restrictions that apply
  • How many times per annum these services can be used

Many clients would welcome an alternative way to access GP appointments in the current environment. So being aware of which critical-illness policies will provide access virtual GP appointments could help advisers take some of the worry away from clients at what is a tough time for many.

Advisers know it can be difficult for clients to get a GP appointment that doesn’t involve a long wait at the best of times, but Covid-19 has taken this to a new level. With another lockdown upon us due to the new strain of the virus spreading rapidly, many GP surgeries are now tasked with vaccinating patients to outpace the number of infections. It is not surprising that GPs in some parts of the UK have expressed concerns about how they will manage, given their existing heavy workloads and limited resources.

Being able to bypass all that and speak to a medical professional from the comfort of their own home by phone or video call, if not face-to-face, has many advantages for clients. Many will be pleased that they are easing the strain on the NHS, which is struggling to cope with unprecedented demand for its services. However, not all insurers offer GP services and there are variations between those who do that advisers will need to be aware of.

According to The Exeter’s HealthWise 2020 Report (see here) in 2020 their remote GP service saw a 112% uplift in usage and the the conditions clients were treated for were wide ranging as can be seen below:

  • Musculoskeletal Conditions – 20%
  • Skin Conditions – 13%
  • Infections & Respiratory Illnesses – 12%
  • Ear, Nose & Throat Conditions – 5%
  • Sexual Health – 4%
  • Lumps & Swellings – 4%

There are nine providers who offer GP services. All nine insurers who provide GP services allow them to be used throughout the plan – not only at the point of claim. With the exception of Aviva (who charge £36 per annum for their GP service), no insurer currently charges for their GP services.

Of all insurers that offer these services none are offered on contractual basis, which means there is no legal obligation for the insurer to provide them and they could be removed at any time.

Some clients might be under the impression that it is only the life assured who can use the GP services on offer, but this is not necessarily the case. It is worth remembering that the plan holder and the life assured are not always the same person. In this case, some insurers allow both the plan holder and the life assured to use their GP services. It may even be possible for members of the life assured’s immediate family to access these benefits. The chart below shows who is able to use the GP services available from each provider:

*Both British Friendly & Cirencester Friendly only offer Income Protection products where setting the plan up on a life of another basis is not possible.

It is clear that Cirencester Friendly and Vitality PPP follow more traditional lines in restricting their GP services only to the lives assured, but most insurers allow the plan holder to use these services. five insurers – AIG, Aviva, British Friendly, Guardian and The Exeter – give partners of the life assured access to these services. In addition, six insurers, comprising the five listed above, plus LV=, extend usage of their GP services to the children of the life assured.

However, as our chart shows, insurers apply different age criteria where children are allowed to use the service. The highest maximum age across the market is 23, which is offered by British Friendly, Guardian and The Exeter. There is a difference of seven-years between these providers and the lowest maximum age of 16, which is offered by LV=.

One of the questions clients might ask advisers is how often they will be allowed to use the GP service. Clients who boast to their adviser that they are ‘as fit as a fiddle’ may not be bothered by any restrictions that insurers could impose on usage. However, for older clients who may need a bit more reassurance about their health than they used to, and clients who have chronic health conditions, such restrictions will be more of an issue.

AIG, Guardian, LV= and VitalityLife PPP all allow unlimited usage of GP services but the remaining four insurers place restrictions on the number of times the service can be used each year. British Friendly tops that list as its services can be used up to six times a year. At the other end of the spectrum, Cirencester Friendly allows the its GP services to be used just twice a year.

Where clients need medication following a GP consultation, insurers generally do include a prescription service to get what is needed to the client. The only exception is VitalityLife.

The way we deliver all kinds of services to people has changed in response to the pandemic. All providers operate tried-and-tested telephone services, with VitalityLife making its services available only by phone.

However, society as a whole has become much more comfortable with video calling since the first national lockdown last year, which presumably makes an online doctor’s appointment less daunting than it would have been. This perhaps explains why the vast majority of providers are also offering access to GP services through video conferencing.

AIG, Guardian, LV= and VitalityLife deserve recognition for allowing clients unlimited use of their GP services. However, Guardian really stands out overall as it ticks all the boxes that benefit the client. Access to its GP service is extended widely beyond the life assured, so that spouses, children up to age 23 to benefit and plan holders can use the service.

Clients can also access the service in whatever format suits them, whether face-to-face, video conference or phone call, and a prescription service is provided. AIG and LV= deserve credit for covering most of the bases but they have lower age limits for children than Guardian.

Things to reflect on for CPD:

  • Why has access to remote GP services become such a key topic in the last 12 months? Consider three ideas.
  • How would the provision of differing GP services affect your client recommendations?
  • What client priorities or circumstances would affect your choice of provider and why?

About The Author

Adam Higgs

Adam leads Protection Guru's detailed protection research and benchmarking of both product and operation features provided by insurers and has a vast knowledge of the protection market. He has been instrumental in building the protection comparison service Quality Analyser and maintaining the data to enable adviser to quickly and easily compare protection products based on qualitative measures. He also works with adviser firms to help in panel reviews and with insurers to help them understand the shape of the market, their strengths and the areas that could be improved in their products. In his spare time and when not spending time with his wife and two children, Adam is a keen Arsenal fan and enjoys hacking his way around a golf course.

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