New company to provide out-of-hours GP care

OUT-of-hours GP care is set to be provided by a new company next year after the current provider lost the contract to run the service.

Naomi Gornall

OUT-of-hours GP care is set to be provided by a new company next year after the current provider lost the contract to run the service.

At an extraordinary board meeting yesterday, NHS Suffolk announced that Take Care Now, which has provided the out-of-hours GP care and dental services for the past five years, will be replaced with a new firm - Harmoni HS Ltd.

TCN, based in Ipswich, has come under fire after a series of concerns about the quality of service it was providing. A report by The Care Quality Commission, accused it of failing to fill doctors' shifts and criticised its policies for dispensing medicine.

The CQC's probe into the company was launched after German doctor, Dr Daniel Ubani, who was working his first out-of-hours shift in Britain for NHS Cambridgeshire last year, gave an accidental overdose to 70-year-old David Gray, which led to his death.

According to NHS Suffolk, Harmoni provided “strong evidence of quality governance arrangements”, had a “good understanding of patients needs, even breaking down to individual wards in Suffolk” and had a good coverage of bases across Suffolk.

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Following concerns brought up via a public consultation, it has been decided that face to face contact for those accessing the out-of-hours service must be made within four hours - instead of the current six-hour requirement for non-urgent cases. There is also an assurance that 80 per cent of the doctors employed in the service will be from East of England PCTs.

NHS Suffolk's procurement panel, which is made up of clinicians, a patient, and specialist health commissioning staff, reviewed the offers put forward and then scored them against a set criteria. Three organisations bid for the contract and Harmoni came top in both the quality section, relating to access, safety and standards of care, and joint top for value for money.

Dr Andrew Hassan, medical director at NHS Suffolk, said: “The panel felt the arrangements of this provider for clinical governance were robust and safe, its quality of care arrangements strong, and ideas for improvement and development of a quality service innovative.

“Harmoni has clearly demonstrated it has done significant work to engage local health providers and it was also clear from the bid that Harmoni had invested time to understand the particular health needs of the population of Suffolk.”

A spokesman for TCN said: “Take Care Now has expressed disappointment at not having been re-awarded the contract to run the out-of-hours service for NHS Suffolk but has committed to continuing to deliver innovative and patient-centred care in other areas for NHS Suffolk.”

Ruth Taylor, spokeswoman for Harmoni, said: “We are absolutely delighted and really pleased to have been named as the preferred provider. We are really looking forward to working with the PCT and local stakeholders and delivering an exceptional service from April 2010.”

TCN will continue to run the minor injuries unit in Ipswich and the sexual health services supports Suffolk County Council in the delivery of its emergency social care.

Health campaigner, Peter Mellor, said: “We will have to see what Harmoni are like. However they will have the same problem as TCN with the lack of funding from the NHS so we shall have to see how they cope with that.”

Michael Ninnmey, Suffolk Coastal councillor for Felixstowe west, said: “This is a genuine attempt to provide a proper rural service which has caused a lot of concern for people in the coastal region.”

Harmoni HS Ltd is a large independent sector organisation that currently holds six NHS out-of-hours contracts nationally. These include the out-of-hours service for NHS North East Essex, West Sussex, Buckinghamshire and north Somerset. Harmoni, which has its headquarters based in Watford, also runs the urgent access centre in Colchester.

From April 2010, Harmoni will run the out-of-hours service GP and dental services, except for the Bildeston Practice, which has kept the responsibility for its own patients out-of-hours. The bases for out-of-hours dental services will be in Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds.

Its bases in Suffolk will be in: Aldeburgh, Bury St Edmunds at West Suffolk Hospital, Felixstowe at Felixstowe General Hospital, Haverhill, Needham Market, Ipswich at Ipswich Hospital, Sudbury, Wickham Market, Eye, Lakenheath and Stowmarket.

Like TCN, Harmoni grew from a healthcare co-operative movement that saw clinicians come together as owners/members and has a decade of experience.