After hours care under fire

SUFFOLK’S new out-of-hours healthcare provider has come under stinging attack from three more whistleblowers.

Harmoni, which took over from Take Care Now last week, has been criticised for its service over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend.

Now three insiders have made allegations about working practices at the firm, including the accusation that 70% of shifts were not filled by Thursday claiming Harmoni were forced to go to locum agencies to get staff from elsewhere.

It was claimed one doctor from Brighton worked 8am to midnight for all four days of the holiday and it was also alleged little training was given to IT call handlers.

One concerned clinician, who worked for Harmoni over the Bank Holiday, claimed: “Over the weekend there were people working from 8am to midnight without a break. I do not believe that is safe.

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“There is also a Comfort Call service. When a person rings for a doctor, they get a call from someone just before the hour target is up to say they will be coming soon, so that Harmoni don’t breach the figures.

“Some people were not getting a call back from a doctor for a number of hours. I visited a patient late in the evening and they had called at 9am.

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“They managed to fill all shifts in the end but only because they were getting doctors from elsewhere.

“I don’t feel it is acceptable for a patient to be seen by a doctor at 11pm who had been working since 8am? I had seven patients to see scattered in all corners of Suffolk and you have to decide where to go first.”

A spokeswoman for Harmoni acknowledged the out-of-hours service had faced a number of challenges over the Easter weekend, but yesterday declined to address the staff’s concerns in public.

Another person claimed IT staff had four hours training and were then thrown in the deep end.

They added: “A lot of staff are concerned about what it will be like when it gets very busy again.”

Another insider claimed there are about 11 non-clinical staff going through the process of redundancy. They added that five primary care centres were closed because there weren’t any clinicians available, and added there has been no GP cover for Haverhill, Sudbury or Wickham Market so patients in the West were being sent to West Suffolk hospital instead.

However, John Gee has said he had a good experience with the service. He called the out of hours service on Saturday morning on behalf of a sick 16 year old girl staying in Hadleigh. He got a call back from a doctor within five minutes and then arranged an appointment at Ipswich’s Riverside Clinic within the hour.

He said: “There were about 6 other people in the waiting room (I have seen a lot more than that on previous visits to the surgery). We were seen within 20 minutes of arriving by a very patient lady doctor.

“I can only speak as I find and I feel we had very good service that day and I did not hear anyone moaning about delays - something I did hear on previous visits.”

The spokeswoman for Harmoni said: “Harmoni would like to reiterate the statement that we made earlier on this week.

“We have acknowledged that the OOH service faced a number of challenges over the Easter weekend, particularly in Ipswich.

“We would like again to express our apologies for the delays that some patients faced and reiterate our thank you to our staff who worked hard to deliver the best possible service to patients in difficult circumstances.

“Harmoni remains reluctant to address the issues raised by these three members of staff in a public forum.

“This does not imply that the allegations they make are therefore true.

“Quite the opposite. It does mean, however, that we believe there to be more appropriate ways for these issues to be discussed and resolved – either through the individual’s line manager or the HR department.

“Alternatively, and in addition, we are putting in place a strictly confidential staff support line which will be advertised internally for those staff who, for some reason, would rather not go through the usual formal routes.

“Our staff are our biggest asset, and we want them all to feel that they are valued and respected members of the team. “

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