Out-of-hours care service report delayed

A REPORT scrutinising Suffolk's out-of-hours care service has been delayed and is expected to be ready just days before the new contract begins.

SUFFOLK: A report scrutinising Suffolk's out-of-hours care service has been delayed and is expected to be ready just days before the new contract begins.

Last month, it was announced that the independent firm Take Care Now, which was commissioned to provide the out-of-hours GP care and dental services by NHS Suffolk for the past five years, will be replaced with a new firm - Harmoni HS Ltd.

TCN, based in Ipswich, came 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.

Due to a general concern over the out-of-hours service, Suffolk County Council's Health Scrutiny Committee decided to set up a working party in September, comprising members of the committee. However no chairman was appointed and no meeting took place until November 30.

The working party put 17 questions to NHS Suffolk surrounding issues like how the quality of the service is managed but have since asked for further clarification on some points and posed more questions in light of the new provider. They are still awaiting these answers. A representative from NHS Suffolk was also unable to attend the working party meeting to explain the issues in person.

Members also asked to see a draft copy of the out-of-hours contract to determine what GP cover there will be for those living in rural areas. It has since emerged that they will get to see an outline of the contract before it is finalised, but not the full version due to “commercial confidentiality reasons”.

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Due to these delays, the working party's final report will be presented to the committee on March 18 (instead of January 20) which is just days away from the start of new contract on April 1.

Ben Gummer, Ipswich's prospective parliamentary candidate for the Conservatives, said: “I hope that the PCT [NHS Suffolk] is not trying to avoid public scrutiny of this decision. It is vital they provide answers to the questions put to them by the scrutiny as soon as possible so that elective representatives of the people in Ipswich and Suffolk can scrutinise the proposals fully.”

An NHS Suffolk spokesman said: “The committee came back to NHS Suffolk for clarification/further information on three of the questions and the answers are being worked on and will be returned as soon as possible.”

What is your experience with the out-of-hours service? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

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