Hackney GPs launch legal fight on out-of-hours care

Doctors spent two years drawing up plans for City and Hackney Urgent Healthcare Social Enterprise - but NHS North East London and the City (NELC) allowed Harmoni to continue running the contract at the last minute.

Hackney GPs are planning to launch a legal challenge after their bid to run out-of-hours care was thwarted.

Doctors are digging deep into their own pockets to fight NHS North East London and the City (NELC) after the service was put out to tender.

The GPs are demanding a judicial review because they claim they were told the contract would go to the social enterprise they were setting up.

They have instructed lawyers and already sent a legal letter to the NELC to set their judicial review bid in motion.

Doctors had spent two years drawing up plans to create the City and Hackney Urgent Healthcare Social Enterprise, which was due to go live on April 1.

The believed they would get the contract because NELC wanted to follow a principle of “local services for local people”.

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But with just weeks to go, health bosses announced they would put the service out to tender – rather than face legal challenges by companies over unfair competition.

Dr Coral Jones from the London Fields Medical Centre, who is honorary secretary of the City and Hackney division of the British Medical Association, said: “Everyone is running scared from these big companies – the NELC weren’t thinking, ‘What can we do to get local GPs to get this service,’ they were thinking about whether or not the new CCG would be sued.”

“Their use of the terms risk and safety are all about the risk and safety from legal challenge, not about patient risk and safety.”

“The thing is we up against these huge companies who have loads of money,” she added.

“We aren’t a big organisation but I think it’s worthwhile.

Healthcare company Harmoni will run the service for the next nine months during the tendering process. The firm, which has had the out-of-hours contract for the past five years, was attacked in December by doctors who alleged that its cost-cutting had caused shortages of clinical staff, and unsafe working practices.

A spokesman for the NELC said its priority was to ensure local people receive services that are safe and of the highest quality.

He added: “The PCT board decided that a procurement process would be needed to do this in a way that meets all legal requirements.”