NHS behind new out of hours service despite long waits for doctors

ANALYSTS were today due to begin reviewing the service provided by Suffolk’s new out of hours healthcare company, following a high volume of demand over Easter.

One service user said she waited nearly an entire day for a doctor to see her unwell mother despite Harmoni calling in extra professionals to deal with requests.

The company, which took over form Take Care Now on Thursday, admitted it was put under strain over the weekend and that services would be thoroughly monitored and reviewed in reaction to high demand.

Meanwhile, NHS Suffolk said it was still confident that Harmoni could deliver a high quality safe service.

Christine Slater’s 89-year-old aunt waited nearly 15 hours to be seen after suffering a suspected stroke on Saturday evening.


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Mrs Slater was told her aunt was 38th in line to be seen by a doctor, who eventually arrived after her symptoms began to ease.

Elaine White’s mother Kathleen Stone developed a fever on Saturday afternoon following a spell in hospital with severe pneumonia.

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The 82-year-old was assessed over the phone and advised to visit her local clinic but she declined in favour of a house call.

Following an overnight wait and several calls to Harmoni, a doctor arrived on Sunday afternoon - nearly a day after Mrs Stone fell ill.

Ruth Taylor, spokeswoman for Harmoni, said the service was busier than expected at the weekend and that any problems would be investigated immediately but added that some calls made over Easter did not require medical response. She said: “We received a lot of calls from the general public regarding the service itself and from people wondering what happens when they call the number. As in any instance of a service going live, we did get non-urgent calls that we would not normally receive but every call takes time for our handlers.

“Data analysts will spend time studying the volume of calls, where they came from and the outcomes reached. This will result in us reviewing resources and possibly who is working where.

“If members of the public have any concerns or questions we would advise them to get in touch.”

Harmoni said it prioritises the calls it receives, with life threatening emergencies immediately being referred to the ambulance service and urgent calls being clinically assessed within 20 minutes, or two hours following triage.

Dr Lynne Wigens, director of patient safety and clinical quality at NHS Suffolk, said: “The Easter Bank Holiday weekend is a busy time for the NHS. This weekend however we saw significant pressures across not only out of hours but also our hospitals in East and West Suffolk and our ambulance service.

“We always expected this to be a busy weekend but this weekend saw a very high demand. All our organizations worked together to manage this safely and we monitored the situation throughout the weekend.

“Harmoni HS and its staff coped very well as did our colleagues in the hospitals and on the ambulances. We robustly monitor all our services and we are confident that our partnership with Harmoni HS will deliver a high quality safe service.”

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