Camden and Islington (north London) KONP groups were celebrating a victory yesterday, as it was announced that the contract for out-of-hours GP services in north-central London was being awarded to a GP-led not-for-profit consortium, and taken off the private health giant, Care UK, following heavy criticism at Care UK’s handling of the service.
“This is an important victory for health campaigners,” said Candy Udwin, chair of Camden KONP. “We have been fighting a long and bitter battle to stop the private company Care UK taking over the service for the next five years.”
The out of hours service provides cover for local GPs at night and weekends when surgeries are closed. When you phone the GP outside normal working hours the service connects you to a medical advice line and doctors and other medical staff on call.
In Camden and Islington this service was originally provided by a consortium of local GPs. But in 2012 the contract was awarded to a private company Harmoni.
In 2013 Harmoni was criticised by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and by Camden council after a number of failures, mainly due to staff shortages, including the death of a baby in its care (CQC report 8 May 2013, Camden council health scrutiny committee 2 July 2013)
In 2014, Harmoni was taken over by Care UK, Britain’s biggest private healthcare company involved in one of the UK’s longest running disputes in the health service – a strike by care assistants in Doncaster.
There was fresh criticism of the out of hours service and urgent care centres Care UK operates in north London after the bad practices revealed by undercover reporter in a documentary aired on ITV last July.
“It is good news that Care UK has lost the contract. Care UK is owned by a secretive private equity company based in a tax haven, exactly the sort of company criticised this week for avoiding paying taxes and hiding its true ownership,” says Candy Udwin.
“Such companies should have no part in a publicly funded and publicly run health service.”
Camden KONP presented evidence about the failures of Harmoni and Care UK’s out of hours service to Camden’s health scrutiny committee – and lobbied the council hearings – at the start of 2014.
“As a result, in February 2014 the council urged commissioners to ensure that non-profit organisations such as local doctors groups were considered – and that contracts were not simply awarded to private providers who put in lower bids but provided a worse service. This was another considerable victory at the time,” says Candy Udwin.
LCW is the current provider of the NHS 111 phoneline for Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Haringey and Islington. The 111 phoneline will be combined with the out of hours service in all five north central London boroughs – Camden, Islington, Barnet, Enfield and Haringey.
It will cover more than a million patients.
This is how we will win. One local victory at a time. Join us. Give the NHS back to the nation.
Contacts for Camden KONP
Camden KONP chair Candy Udwin 07946 480 261
Camden KONP press officer Tony Marshall 07854 834 114