New Out of Hours health service in Suffolk

On April 1st responsibility for the Out of Hours doctors and dental service passes to Harmoni Healthcare. Yesterday I went to a presentation by the company at which various speakers outlined the way in which they will be implementing the service. The contract is for 5 years and will cover all of Suffolk except Waveney and the area covered by the Bildeston GP practice, which runs its own out of hours service. Five Suffolk GPs will be on the Board and the clinical lead post for the service in the County will be a job share between Dr. Roy Steiner from Ipswich and Dr. Chris Browning from Lavenham. There were a number of reassuring factors in the presentations which I outline below.The company was founded as a GP cooperative in 1996 and now provides support to more than 20 Primary Care Trusts with 7 million patients. They also run a number of GP led health centres, including one in Colchester.Their vision is to:

  • Treat patients as family
  • Treat staff as they would wish to be treated themselves  How do they select doctors? Given the concerns around the death of David Gray at the hands of Dr Ubani, the German locum, a number of members of the audience were anxious to find out how doctors working for the service would be selected and screened. At present the service in Suffolk relies to a great extent on agency doctors. Those who work directly for Harmoni are interviewed and clinically assessed. They have agreed that the agency will go through the same process. On the use of doctors from elsewhere in Europe, they stipulate that if doctors have EU medical qualifications that they are proficient in English and have a reference from a UK GP practice. They are aiming to encourage more local GPs to staff the service. Access to patient notes: One of the major concerns raised by members of the public is that out of hours doctors do not have access to their notes and medication records. Harmoni will have their own database which includes patient notes. It will be up to GPs to decide which of their patients is most likely to need the out of hours service and therefore whether they need to share information with the service. The database is web based system and GPs will be able upload patient notes. The system is encrypted for security and password protected. After Harmoni have seen a patient they will transfer the data to the patient’s GP by 8am the following morning. Every GP practice has been offered an individual visit to explain the service.  Locations: they are planning to set up a number of new bases as well as using existing centres like Wickham Market. The list is as follows: Ipswich Hospital fracture clinic, West Suffolk hospital fracture clinic, Walnutree hospital in Sudbury, the new Hartismere health centre, Newmarket community hospital, Wickham Market, Aldeburgh Community hospital, Felixstowe Community hospital. There will also be centres in Mildenhall and Stowmarket, but I am not sure of the locations of these. Riverside Centre in Ipswich will not be used. The call centre will be based at Ransomes Europark in a new building, where there will be meeting and training facilities, but no access for patients. Normally patients will ring their own GP practice and be transferred straight through. For dental services they will ring their own dental surgery (if they have one) and will be given a number to ring. If they have no dental surgery there will be an 0300 number to ring. Monitoring of quality of service: NHS Suffolk will have monthly meetings with Harmoni. They also have their internal performance indicators which are reported regularly to their regional director.In conclusion the company said they were determined to offer a better service than that provided by Take Care Now and my perception was that they seem to have the right values. As someone said after the meeting, however, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating!

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