The Independent London Newspaper


HEALTH: Criticism from NHS campaigners as health firms fight for £50m out-of-hours GP deal

Published: 14 November, 2014

PEOPLE needing a doctor at night or during weekends will be less likely to have access to a local GP under new cost-cutting proposals for out-of-hours services, according to anti-privatisation campaigners.

Health chiefs in charge of NHS purse strings in Camden, Islington, Barnet, Haringey and Enfield are setting up a single service to cover all of the north London boroughs.

The “out-of-hours” service would care for one million patients across north London and would be run by a private company that would then “sub-contract out to a number of other providers” from 2015-2020. The size of the five-year contract – believed to be worth more than £50million – favours massive healthcare companies and prices out Camden and Islington’s local doctor “consortiums”. 

Candy Udwin, from Camden Keep Our NHS Public, said: “The clinical commissioning groups (CCG) have said they would accept a bid from a consortium of local doctors. How can they raise the financial guarantees to cover a £50 million-plus contract? They are doctors, not fund-raising experts. That is what is so wrong about the system of healthcare introduced by this government, which puts decisions in the hands of financial experts, not doctors.”

She added: “If local doctors on the governing body want to put in a bid, they have to resign, under the conflict of interest rules. It is a crazy system that means the doctors with local expertise – who would offer the best service – are being banned from taking part.”

Harmoni won the out-of-hours contract in Camden and Islington in 2012 but the firm was swallowed up by Care UK two years ago in a deal that made its major shareholders millionaires overnight.

There have been two reviews of the service since Harmoni was criticised by the Care Quality Commission following the death of seven-week-old Axel Peanberg King. 

Care UK’s chairman at the time of the takeover was Conservative donor and academy school sponsor John Nash, who is now a life peer in the Lords and a minister advising government on education policy. 

Nationally, Care UK have been criticised for low pay following a long-running strike by care assistants in Doncaster.

According to NHS board meeting minutes, creating five borough out-of-hours services would “provide some economies of scale” but will face opposition from NHS England which does not agree because they want to procure a London-wide service.

A Camden CCG spokeswoman said she “could not comment on details of the contract”, adding: “Once the details of the contract have been finalised, we will be able to provide a more in-depth statement.”


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