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NHS body unaccountable for extension of Harmoni contract

PUBLISHED: 17:29 19 June 2013 | UPDATED: 17:37 19 June 2013

Homerton University Hospital, in Homerton Row where Harmoni failed to provide out of hours doctor cover on Easter Sunday.

Homerton University Hospital, in Homerton Row where Harmoni failed to provide out of hours doctor cover on Easter Sunday.

Archant

Doctors have slammed the NHS body which extended Hackney’s contract for out of hours (OOH) care to Harmoni, for ignoring evidence that the private company was not meeting national targets for call answering and clinical assessment.

Hackney GPs spent two years drawing up plans for the City and Hackney Urgent Healthcare Social Enterprise (CHUHSE) – but just seven weeks before it was due to go live on April 1, NHS North East London and the City (NELC) decided to let Harmoni continue running the OOH service for another nine months during a tendering process.

At the time a spokesman for the NELC said its priority was to ensure local people received services that are “safe and of the highest quality”.

But last month Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspectors declared Harmoni was guilty of running the OOH GP service for North Central London with so few doctors they were potentially placing patient’s safety at risk.

Disbanded

The company admitted there were no doctors based at Homerton Hospital on the evening of Easter Sunday, and figures from last November to January this year showed Harmoni failed to comply with some National Quality Requirements (NQRs), including call answering, clinical assessment and home visiting.

Doctors demanded to know why the NHS NELC board had extended Harmoni’s contract when the company was failing to meet targets.

CHUHSE chief executive, Mark Cockerton, explained: “When NELC renewed contract with Harmoni without a competitive tender they had information that the provider was breaching NQRs in key areas whilst giving a public message that there was no cause for concern.

“Commissioners seemed to be less concerned with the quality of healthcare provided to local people than they were with ticking the boxes.”

But when the Gazette contacted the NHS to ask to the NELC PCT board to comment, a spokeswoman said no one was available because the board had disbanded on April 1 when clinical commissioning groups were introduced under the Health and Social Care Act.

She confirmed that Alwen Williams and Heather Mullin who sat on the board still work for the NHS.

Dr Deborah Colvin, the Hackney GP spearheading the bid to reclaim OOH services, said: “Those people all exist so that’s unacceptable – they were and are NHS managers, it doesn’t matter what you call them.”

She continued: “When I think of Heather Mullin standing there at the council meeting insisting they had no concerns about Harmoni’s clinical record, there’s a disconnect between what she was saying and what was reality.”

A spokesman for Harmoni said recruiting GPs to OOH services is a challenge across the country for nearly all providers.

He continued: “We understand that the CQC inspection recognised considerable positive patient feedback regarding the level of service and care they received.”

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