‘Challenging’ start for new out-of-hours GP care

THE new out-of-hours GP service for Suffolk last night admitted it had endured a “particularly challenging” start after an exceptionally high level of demand at the beginning of the Easter weekend.

More staff were drafted in by Harmoni HS Ltd to deal with more than 40 calls an hour and extra doctors were brought in to the Riverside Clinic in Ipswich after it was deluged by a “higher than anticipated” number of patients.

But bosses said although some patients faced long waits to be seen, none had been turned away and that resources had been adjusted to cope with the demand.

Harmoni, which took over the out-of-hours service from the much-criticised Take Care Now (TCN), received 918 calls between 6.30pm on Thursday night - when its contract began - and 4.30pm yesterday.

From those calls, 59 patients were referred to hospital, 355 were seen at primary care centres and 60 received home visits from doctors.

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The walk-in Riverside Clinic, which deals with minor injuries and is as an out-of-hours primary care centre, also saw far more patients than was anticipated on the Bank Holiday, requiring extra doctors to be called in.

A spokeswoman for Harmoni said: “The Easter bank holiday weekend is a particularly challenging time for a new out-of-hours service to go live.

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“Walk-in patient demand at the Riverside Clinic has been higher than anticipated which has, unfortunately led to some patients having to wait longer than we would have liked.

“As a result of this, we have adjusted the service capacity to meet this demand and additional doctors are now working there.”

A total of 30 clinicians were operating across Suffolk for Harmoni HS yesterday, four of whom were working at the Riverside Clinic where an additional two were called in to deal with the number of patients.

The spokeswoman said there was a “particularly high” level of calls to the out-of-hours services between 9am and 9.30am yesterday, after which four more call handlers were drafted in.

“We are delighted at the hard work and dedication of all our staff and would like to thank them for their help in delivering what we believe is a high-quality service for patients in Suffolk,” she added.

Harmoni HS Ltd won the contract to provide out-of-hours care in the county from NHS Suffolk in December last year.

Former provider Take Care Now (TCN) lost the contract following a number of high-profile incidents, including the death of 70-year-old patient David Gray in February 2008 after German doctor Dr Daniel Ubani, who was working his first out-of-hours shift for the firm, gave the pensioner an accidental overdose of 100mg of diamorphine.

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