YOU are the judge of out-of-hours care

Today, The Evening Star calls on readers to judge the independent firm responsible for out-of-hours care in Suffolk.

SUFFOLK: Today, The Evening Star calls on readers to judge the independent firm responsible for out-of-hours care in Suffolk.

As Take Care Now (TCN) submits a bid to extend its contract to run services in the county, we are asking the public to give their view on the company's performance.

We have printed a survey form which we want you to fill in with your experiences and views - good or bad.

Our canvassing comes in the wake of criticism of TCN, which has been accused of failing in certain areas, including unfilled shifts and its policies relating to the dispensing of medicine.

Yesterday, members of Suffolk County Council's Health Scrutiny Committee vowed to closely scrutinise the service as the contract nears its end.

The committee is also due to hold an urgent meeting of its working group to further analyse the issues before a new deal is signed.

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Bids for a new contract are currently being evaluated and will be decided by NHS Suffolk next month. The new service will start in April 2010.

During yesterday's meeting, members called for the chance to see a draft copy of the new contract in order to determine what GP cover there will be for those living in rural areas.

Tony Goldson, who backed the proposal, said: “I have a whole host of questions - not just for TCN but also the Primary Care Trust.

“They have failed on several issues. I would like the opportunity to go to the PCT and ask them how they are monitoring this contract.”

Martin Royal, director of business development and external relations at NHS Suffolk, said: “I can understand there are questions unanswered and we are more than happy to answer these.

“There is a fine line between rigorous scrutiny and contract management. I would not want the committee to become contract managers.”

He said the draft contract is currently being discussed with potential providers. As it is at the procurement stage, NHS Suffolk will be seeking legal advice as to whether the contract can be scrutinised.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Dr Graeme Kelvin, chairman of the TCN Board and a GP, said: “We are in the business of trying to provide a quality service which is patient centred. We do not get it right all of the time-no organisation can. The majority of people are happy with the service.”

In September it was decided that a working party, comprising members of the scrutiny committee, would be set up to monitor out-of-hours services.

However no chairman was appointed and no meeting has taken place since. As such, members are calling for an urgent meeting of the working party.

Tell us your experience with out-of-hours care - write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

Take Care Now looks after out-of-hours care for nearly 600,000 people in Suffolk (except for seven practices on the Norfolk-Suffolk border, which are run by different providers).

The Care Quality Commission launched a probe of TCN after the death of 70-year-old David Gray, who was accidentally killed by a German doctor working his first out-of-hours shift in Britain in February last year. Dr Daniel Ubani was employed by TCN and working for NHS Cambridgeshire at the time.

Yesterday's Health Scrutiny Committee meeting came just days after it was announced NHS Cambridgeshire terminated its contract with TCN nine weeks early due to concerns with its overall performance.

In a letter sent to councillors and other interested parties yesterday morning, Carole Taylor-Brown, chief executive of NHS Suffolk, wrote that the safety of patients and quality of services was “paramount” and a key priority.

Members of the committee were shown the NHS Suffolk consultation report on Improving Out of Hours Care, which was the result of a 12-week exercise that involved responses from nearly 500 people in the county.

It revealed a range of responses, from those saying they received a good quality of care to others who claimed the service was poor. Some claimed they had experienced incorrect diagnoses and difficulties in getting through to a doctor.

Today, we are launching a survey to see what people in Suffolk think about the out-of-hours service. Tell us your stories of both good and poor experiences.

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