Healthcare firm refute MP’s ‘unsubstantiated’ criticism

SUFFOLK: A war of words has broken out between a Suffolk MP and a private healthcare firm.

In Tuesday’s Evening Star, Dr Daniel Poulter, MP for North Ipswich and Central Suffolk, criticised Harmoni, a firm providing out-of-hours GP cover for much of Suffolk.

He said Harmoni was providing a “failing service” that was leaving Ipswich Hospital to “pick up the pieces” and was not fit for purpose.

In a letter to The Evening Star published today, Andrew Gardner, chief executive of Harmoni, said he took issue with Dr Poulter’s “highly critical yet completely unsubstantiated” comments.

He said: “It is ironic that the MP’s comments came on the same day that the local patient watchdog body, LINk, announced that in its most recent patient survey of people using the Suffolk out-of-hours service, record levels of satisfied and very satisfied patients were recorded.

“On what evidence does the MP base his views that the out-of-hours service in Suffolk is ‘not fit for purpose’ and ‘is broken and needs to be fixed’? Not, it would seem, on the opinion of the most important people – the patients who use the service.

“The out-of-hours staff across Suffolk work tirelessly and professionally to provide the best service possible for local people. It does nobody any favours for our local MP to make such unfounded comments, decrying the honest work of so many and flying in the face of the views of his constituents.”

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Last night Dr Poulter said he stood by his comments and explained that the LINk watchdog was set to be axed by the Government as part of health reforms in a bid to make direct contact with more patients.

He said: “LINk schemes are not an effective way of engaging patients and are going to be replaced with something that has a much more engaging role with people called Patient Watch in 2013.”

He said out-of-hours care was something that repeatedly came up when holding meetings with constituents and patients would much prefer to have a locally-based GP providing late night and weekend care.

He added: “That (local) knowledge is being completely lost with an out-of-hours service that ships in out-of-area GPs to cover.”

Dr Poulter’s comments came as it emerged that talks were being held to decide whether the running of the Riverside Clinic in Landseer Road, the town’s minor injuries unit, should be transferred from Harmoni to another provider.

A spokesman for NHS Suffolk said no meetings about the clinic were taking place this week but there were regular meetings between Harmoni and NHS Suffolk.

n What do you think about out-of-hours health care? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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