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Hackney GPs to challenge out-of-hours bid bombshell

22:19 05 February 2013

GPs accuse the NHS of putting legalese before patient safety, as competition rules block their out-of-hours social enterprise plans.

Hackney GPs have accused the NHS of putting its own legal safety before patient care after their plans to take the borough’s out of hours service back in house were scuppered with an eleventh hour decision to put the service out to tender.

For the last two years every doctor in the borough has been involved in negotiations with NHS North East London and the City to establish the Hackney Urgent Healthcare Social Enterprise (HUHSE).

They were led to believe the contract would be awarded to them on the principle of ‘local services for local people’.

But with just seven weeks until the go-live date on April 2, the NHS primary care trust announced it would allow Harmoni to continue running the service for another nine months, while they put the service out to tender - rather than face legal challenge by companies over unfair competition.

MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch has criticised the PCT, saying if they were concerned about competition rules they should have been clearer about the legal position from the outset.

However GPs believe there is no legal requirement to go through a procurement process.

Dr Adam Forman, chairman of the British Medical Association in Hackney, said: “The requirement is for a high class service and it has been universally felt that the HUHSE would provide this.

“Procurement in this instance smacks of commercialism rather than concern for patient care.”

They plan to challenge the decision tomorrow night at the council’s Health in Hackney Scrutiny Commission meeting, where board members have the power to refer the decision to the Department of Health.

Chair of City and Hackney LMC, GP Deborah Colvin, who has been key in the negotiations, wants to know why doctors have been blocked from opting back in to running the borough’s out of hours service, given their legitimate expectation they would be allowed to.

“I do think it’s to do with the new Health and Social Care Act,” she said.

“I think they are putting their own safety before patient care.

“If they are worried about this risk of the private sector questioning their decision making, they are not making the right decision for their patients.”

Harmoni, which has been running the north London out-of-hours service for the last five years, was heavily criticised by doctors in December, who alleged the company’s cost-cutting has caused staff retention problems, shortages in clinical staff, and unsafe working practices.

Harmoni refuted the criticisms.

A spokesman for the NHS said the GPs’ work in drawing up the social enterprise proposals would not be lost, as they could bid to operate the out of hours services in the procurement process.

“We appreciate this delay is disappointing for local GPs and many residents but we hope that progress can now be made in a process that will ensure the best service is provided to local people,” he added.

Campaign group Hackney Coalition to Save the NHS is urging residents to come along and show their support for the GPs’ plans at the Health in Hackney Scrutiny Commission tomorrow night (Wednesday) at 7pm, at Hackney Town Hall in Mare Street.

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