Guardian Harmoni report “did not get to bottom of understaffing problem” says GP

Homerton University Hospital in Homerton Row.

Homerton University Hospital in Homerton Row. - Credit: Archant

Some patients were left waiting for over eight-and-a-half hours to be seen by GPs at Harmoni North Central London out of hours (OOH) service last year, a report just released has shown.

Four of the patients who should have been seen within a target of 60 minutes in June were deemed high risk, with symptoms like gastrointestinal bleeding, but were left waiting on average an extra 88 minutes to see a doctor.

Excuses given by the company – which covers OOH care in Hackney, Islington, Haringey and Camden – were “unpredictably high” volumes of patients over the Diamond Jubilee celebration weekend and the Radio One Hackney Weekend festival. However, the following month some patients were still waiting for nearly eight hours to see a GP.

The figures are documented in a report by the North East Central London Primary Care Trust, which has since disbanded, commissioned after explosive allegations were made by The Guardian newspaper about the private healthcare provider last December.

In April it promised the report would be made public, but it was only published last week after the Gazette made continued requests to see it.

In June, Care Quality Commission inspectors deemed Harmoni North Central London guilty of running the service with so few doctors they were potentially placing patient’s safety at risk.

The company admitted there were no doctors based at Homerton Hospital on Easter Sunday evening, despite being contracted to provide the service when GP practices are closed.

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Hackney GP Nick Mann believes holding Harmoni to account has been a difficult process and has consumed valuable NHS resources – but still doesn’t believe the review gets to the bottom of the problem of understaffing at Harmoni.

“It addresses their current performance measures, while some of the important details rely on assurances from the company,” he said.

He continued: “Previous NHS-run services did not have such difficulty, and people did not have to travel across London to see a doctor or wait up to 12 hours for a home visit.”

The report could not comment on the death of seven-week-old baby Axel Peanberg King after he stopped breathing at Harmoni’s clinic in the Whittington Hospital in Islington last November.

A coroner raised concerns over his treatment and the matter is still under investigation.

A spokesman for Harmoni said they were aware “some elements of the service were not performing as well as they should have been”.

He added: “This very detailed report rejects any claim that the service provided by Harmoni was systemically unsafe, and finds that many of the allegations made in the media were without foundation.

“The report makes clear that Harmoni had in place the key elements of clinical governance required of a responsible care provider.”

An announcement should be made this week on who has been awarded the OOH contract for City and Hackney, which was put out to tender in March.

Harmoni has held the OOH contract under an interim arrangement since 2010 without a formal tendering process.

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