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Camden GPs criticise Harmoni’s ‘unprofitable’ out-of-hours service

PUBLISHED: 14:19 17 October 2013 | UPDATED: 11:34 18 October 2013

Chair of Health Scrutiny Committee Cllr John Bryant criticised a 'culture of secrecy' in the NHS

Chair of Health Scrutiny Committee Cllr John Bryant criticised a 'culture of secrecy' in the NHS

Archant

A group of Camden GPs has strongly criticised private healthcare provider Harmoni after the company admitted it is yet to make its out-of-hours GP service in the borough profitable.

Representatives from Harmoni said the contract it won in 2010 after promising to deliver the service at a cheaper cost than rival bidders – including a local GP consortium – had not been making the company money. The admission came as Harmoni gave evidence to Camden Council’s health scrutiny panel on Monday.

David Tee, Harmoni’s regional director, said: “Nobody goes into the out-of-hours market to make a profit – it’s just not a profit-making bit of the health economy.

“The market is very challenging and you will have seen a number of smaller providers going under. Particularly with the 111 service coming in you’ve got a different mix of patients coming through and a very different set of numbers in your accounts.”

Haverstock Health, which is owned and run by 26 NHS GP practices in the borough – and lost out to Harmoni when the bid was awarded – said the admission raised serious questions about the bidding process.

The group’s chief executive, Dr Michael Smith, said: “It’s no surprise. We, along with other bidders, were not able to work out how they could provide the service needed at the cost they bid.

“It continues to raise serious questions of how they can maintain a quality service at that price.”

The group says it hopes the latest admission will mean commissioners will place “more emphasis on quality of care rather than price” when the contract is up for renewal in 2015.

Committee chairman Cllr John Bryant told Harmoni: “You won the contract not on quality, but on price. You’ve described how the service is a loss-leader.

“If you submitted a realistic price to cover the costs that you’re now incurring you may also have risen on your quality thresholds as well.

“From our perspective, that would be better because it’s quality that we’re more concerned about rather than price.”

A Harmoni spokesman said later: “What we told the committee was that any provider of urgent care, whether from the independent sector or other parts of the NHS, can at best make only a small surplus on any contract. We did not say that Harmoni makes an operating loss on the provision of the contract in Camden.

“We were awarded the contract in an open and transparent NHS process which weighted quality twice as strongly as price.”

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