Hackney GPs oust Harmoni from out of hours contract

The CHUHSE team, Jenny Waller (Corporate Administrator), Mary Cooke (Operations Manager), Victoria H

The CHUHSE team, Jenny Waller (Corporate Administrator), Mary Cooke (Operations Manager), Victoria Holt (Medical Director), Florence Zakari (Director of Finance and Information), Mark Cockerton (Chief Executive) - Credit: Archant

GPs have emerged victorious in their battle to reclaim control of the borough’s out of hours (OOH) service from private company Harmoni.

Doctors spent two years drawing up plans for the City and Hackney Urgent Healthcare Social Enterprise (CHUHSE) and had expected to take over the service on April 1.

But just seven weeks before the go-live date health bosses from the disbanded NHS North East London and the City (NELC) announced Harmoni would maintain the contract while it was put out to tender, rather than face any legal challenge over unfair competition.

On Friday the NHS City and Hackney Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which was formed in April as part of the Tories’ healthcare reforms, declared CHUHSE had been chosen to run the OOH service across the City and Hackney instead of the other bidder Harmoni, which was slammed by inspectors earlier this year.

Chief Officer of the CCG, Paul Haigh, said: “What shone through on the bid was not just the rhetoric of the local service but the level of engagement, there was a really strong level of the patient’s voice in the bid.”

CHUHSE has no shareholders and the not-for-profit approach means that any surpluses are re-invested in the service, which will be run by local GPs.

Dr Nick Mann from the Well Street Surgery, who spoke at the CCG meeting on Friday when the announcement was made, said it was great the CCG had finally commissioned local GPs to re-provide the service.

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“There’s a sense around the table that it’s inventing the wheel but of course it’s just going back to what was a very successful set-up, running for almost 20 years,” he said.

“What’s been remarkable but not mentioned at all is the incredible struggle that local GPs have had to go through in order to be able to be in a position to bid to provide that service again.

“For the patients and the GPs who were unhappy with the previous service, GPs asking to take back out of hours is a no brainer, it’s just surprising we have had so much trouble getting to this stage, so let’s hope we can provide a decent service.”

In May inspectors from the Care Quality Commission said Harmoni North East London – which covers Islington, Hackney, Camden and Haringey – was potentially putting patients’ safety at risk because, “there were not enough qualified, skilled and experienced staff to meet people’s needs”.

Harmoni will continue to run the OOH service until a date is agreed for the new service to begin.

A spokesman for Harmoni said they will work closely with the new provider to ensure a smooth transition as their contract comes to an end.