Whistleblower lifts the lid on out-of-hours care chaos

SUFFOLK: A whistleblower has today blown the lid on the chaos that ensued with the out-of-hours GP service over the Bank Holiday weekend.

The new provider of out-of-hours care in Suffolk, Harmoni HS Ltd, which took over from Take Care Now (TCN) last Thursday, has admitted it was under strain at the weekend as it struggled to cope with the high demand.

However an insider today reveals the extent of the problems, claiming that numerous shifts for clinicians, drivers and receptionists, were still unfilled on Sunday, home visits were taking up to ten hours instead of the target of four, and there were IT issues as call handlers had not been trained properly.

The Evening Star has been inundated with messages about the service people received over the Easter break, including Christine Slater’s 89-year-old aunt from Stowmarket, who waited nearly 15 hours to be seen after suffering a suspected stroke on Saturday evening.

The source told The Evening Star: “Harmoni stated they had not received information on stats which is totally incorrect. TCN dealt with more than 200 calls per hour in peak times so to claim 40 as high is a joke.”

The insider added that doctors were unhappy with the way they were spoken to and the equipment provided, patients were made to wait excessive times, there was only one car in Ipswich when TCN normally had three on a Bank Holiday, staff were stressed out and not able to cope with the demand, and patients were being sent to emergency departments for prescriptions.

A spokeswoman for Harmoni said: “Harmoni has already accepted that the out of hours service struggled over the Bank Holiday weekend and we have explained the steps that we put in place to remedy the situation. We are currently reviewing the activity data and feedback internally and will resolve all the issues that come out of this as a matter of urgency.

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“The service has been the subject of a number of allegations over the past couple of days, and we do not believe that it is right to address any individual’s concerns through the press or media. We would therefore encourage this particular member of staff to go through the appropriate channels and contact their line manager or the HR department at harmoni.suffolk@nhs.net.”

NHS Suffolk has said it is confident that Harmoni can deliver a high quality safe service. The Evening Star has put five questions to NHS Suffolk to see how the situation came about and what can be done to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.

n Have you had a problem with the out-of-hours service and want to tell us your experience? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.