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Suffolk: New criticism for county’s out-of-hours GP provider Harmoni

PUBLISHED: 15:00 10 June 2011 | UPDATED: 17:33 10 June 2011

Andrew Gardner, chief executive of out of hours provider Harmoni HS Ltd

Andrew Gardner, chief executive of out of hours provider Harmoni HS Ltd

SUFFOLK: Out-of-hours GP care in the county has been criticised today after its provider has once again run into serious problems, The Evening Star can exclusively reveal.

And the concerns with Harmoni HS, the out-of-hours (OOH) care provider appointed in April last year, have reportedly led to a bust-up with commissioners NHS Suffolk over the terms of the contract.

Following a series of questions posed by the Star, NHS Suffolk, the county’s Primary Care Trust, has revealed its concerns about Harmoni’s performance, which it claims fell below the standards laid out in the five-year contract which began last year.

However Harmoni’s chief executive Andrew Gardner says they have turned a corner in the last two months, leaving their problems behind them.

Today we reveal how;

n Harmoni was failing to hit key targets up until a couple of months ago

n Harmoni and NHS Suffolk are at loggerheads over the contract terms

n The chief executives of the two organisations have had high-level meetings over the issues

Harmoni hit the headlines last year when it first took over the contract in April after a surge in unexpected demand led to long delays for patients.

NHS Suffolk said although Harmoni had made improvements in the first six months, the performance dipped over the winter period.

A spokesman said: “NHS Suffolk has expressed concern over recent months that Harmoni is not meeting the standards specified in the contract.

“These concerns include the process by which patients are initially assessed and the time it takes for them to speak to a doctor.

“This drop in performance did signify a breach of the standards set out in the contract and Harmoni HS has agreed to remedy this.”

The spokesman added: “We are in discussion with Harmoni on aspects of their contract. Our priority is to ensure that the quality of service for patients is addressed.”

Mr Gardner said for the last two months, Harmoni has been hitting the key national targets and NHS Suffolk agrees with this.

Ipswich’s MP Ben Gummer has called for Harmoni to “shape up” and urges the PCT to keep a close eye on their performance.

He said: “Harmoni needs to shape up and the PCT needs to make sure that they comply to see the complaint rate come down. A lot of people do not complain – they are used to having an abysmal service.

“At least Harmoni is being refreshingly honest [about their poor performance]. We need to make sure we continue to get not only a good service but good value.

“I would be unhappy if Harmoni did not keep to the terms of their contract.

“I want to see them performing and the PCT has to ensure that this is the case.”

Roy Gray, chairman of the Felixstowe Save Our Hospitals Group, added his voice to criticism.

He said: “I’m glad to see that at long last, NHS Suffolk has realised the faults that Harmoni has.

“Initially they seemed to be doing quite well – although they failed to give us the after hours service we need in Felixstowe – but we have heard a lot of complaints about doctors not being available.”

Dr Dan Poulter, MP for north Ipswich and central Suffolk, added: “I know the PCT has actually realised the problem and they are looking to intervene for the benefit of patients, and that’s to be commended.

“The out of hours contract we have isn’t really fit for purpose because for too many people, especially older people in rural parts of Suffolk, don’t know where to go for help.”

n What is your experience of Harmoni? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail evening
starletters@eveningstar.co.uk

3 comments

  • i used the out of hours service recently for a tooth ache and they couldn't have been more helpful and professional.Thankyou Harmoni.

    Report this comment

    william davis

    Friday, June 10, 2011

  • I am not sure if Harmoni was responsible for the following situation from the start or if it is just 'the system' within which they work. Recently I had a call from a friend with very severe abdominal pain, who wanted me to take her to her GP appointment later that day. When I saw her I immediately assessed that she was very ill and seemed at the point of collapse. Abdominal pain can be an indicator of very major problems and if left untreated can kill very quickly. So I phoned 999 for an ambulance and described her serious condition; the controller asked to speak to her and then said that 'someone' would phone her back "within one hour" (this scared me). Fortunately she was called back within about 20 minutes (during which time she was in severe pain) and then told that an on-call doctor would come to see her. He arrived within about 30 mins and immediately he saw her told her she had to go to hospital urgently. I then took her to A&E in my car to avoid a further wait. My analysis is that there appears to be a system in place either to weed out the non-urgent or to kill off the ill to save hospital space! Or maybe a combination of both. The time taken for the on-call GP to arrive was satisfactory but the whole process could have taken hours; my friend had an emergency operation and was told she may have died if not treated soon. So, reader(s), don't dial NHS Direct or 999 but just get the ill person directly to A&E by cartaxi or whatever. Don't enter the lottery of using a system which may kill.

    Report this comment

    Johnthebap

    Saturday, June 11, 2011

  • This is a bit worrying when the government's model for the NHS is based on more competition and outsourcing to these sort of private companies.

    Report this comment

    IpswichMan

    Friday, June 10, 2011

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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