Harmoni admits running out-of-hours centre with no doctors

GP leaders have slammed a private out-of-hours provider after it admitted it had no doctors on duty on Easter Sunday at one of its health centres.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul: lack of GPs unacceptable
Dr Chaand Nagpaul: lack of GPs unacceptable

Harmoni said patients requiring urgent GP care from its City and Hackney service at Homerton Hospital in east London were sent to another base two miles away because it had no doctors to cover the shift.

GPC negotiator and north London GP Dr Chaand Nagpaul said it was ‘not an acceptable state of affairs’.

‘It is not acceptable for patients to turn up to an out-of-hours GP centre without a doctor and to be told they have to travel elsewhere to be seen by a GP. Harmoni needs to make sure it has in place adequate provision.’

Honorary secretary of City and Hackney BMA Dr Coral Jones told the Hackney Gazette: 'GPs have been informed that rotas are not always covered, including most seriously at night when on occasion there have been no doctors present, leaving a nurse to handle the calls.'

Harmoni took over the out-of-hours service in 2010 under an interim arrangement which was extended in February without a tender process. Hackney GPs who formed a not-for-profit organisation were blocked from bidding for the contract.

Dr Nagpaul said the latest incident ‘vindicates concerns previously raised by Hackney GPs’ about the Harmoni service and highlighted that patients were at the mercy of providers and services which vary hugely in quality.

A recent CQC inspection of Harmoni North Central London which covers the City and Hackney contract found ‘there were not enough qualified, skilled and experienced staff to meet people’s needs’.

Harmoni told the watchdog that targets were breached because of ‘difficulty in recruiting GPs and covering shifts’.

A spokesman for Harmoni said: ‘Recruiting GPs to out-of-hours services is a challenge across the country for nearly all out-of-hours providers. Harmoni has a robust recruitment process in place which addresses future recruitment but also the more immediate needs of filling rotas.

'Part of the process of addressing more immediate needs is sending messages to local GPs which stress the need to fill shifts and is a system which we find works effectively when booking GPs for shifts.

‘On rare occasions, a GP is, at the very last moment, unable to attend a shift to which he or she had committed, as happened at Homerton on Easter Sunday. Patients needing to see a GP during that time were instead offered an appointment with a GP at our Haringey base, less than two miles away. This was achieved without any adverse impact on patient care.’

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