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

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

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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

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