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New Camden Out of Hours contract ‘opening NHS to privateers’

PUBLISHED: 12:27 17 November 2014 | UPDATED: 12:27 17 November 2014

Candy Udwin of Camden Keep Our NHS Public. Picture: Polly Hancock

Candy Udwin of Camden Keep Our NHS Public. Picture: Polly Hancock

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A shake-up of the service providing care when GP surgeries are closed will leave more than a million residents being treated by “anonymous private companies” rather than their local doctors, health campaigners have warned.

Commissioners have outlined plans that will see Out of Hours (OOH) care for north London residents, including those in Camden, merged into one service – making it “much harder” for local GPs to bid for the contract.

Currently, Camden and Islington residents receive a joint OOH service by private healthcare provider Harmoni, now owned by Care UK.

The awarding of the contract – which was once described by Camden Council’s health scrutiny chair as done on “price rather than quality” – followed the failed bid of a local consortium of GPs, Haverstock Health.

Criticism from health campaigners and councillors into the service provided by Harmoni led some to hope a local provider would be given a “fairer hearing” when the contract was up for renewal.

But health chiefs have instead revealed plans to create a much larger contract, set to cover all residents in Camden, Islington, Enfield, Barnet and Haringey.

Dr Mike Smith, chief executive of Haverstock Health, told the Ham&High it was “very unlikely we’ll be able to compete”.

He added: “I suspect what the commissioners suggest is that we buddy up with other local providers and submit a joint bid, but that’s going to be unlikely for us.

“A contract of that size would be daunting for any local provider.”

The benefits of the shake-up, as outlined by the CCG, include improved “economies of scale” and creating a “more stable workforce from the local area”.

It will also be combined with the NHS 111 service to improve efficiency.

But Candy Udwin, chair of Camden Keep Our NHS Public, said big contracts like these were putting decisions on health “in the hands of financial experts, not doctors”.

She said: “Private companies are more concerned about increasing profits for their shareholders than offering the kind of good, safe, reliable service people should be able to rely on in their hour of need.

“This is a service that could, and should, be run by family doctors [not] anonymous private companies.”

A spokesperson for Camden CCG said: “The Out of Hours Service is still under discussion.

“There will be a robust engagement process with our public, stakeholders and GPs once there is an agreed approach.”

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