HARMONI, the out-of-hours GP services privateer, is often so short-staffed that it is unsafe.
Managers regularly send out desperate texts to doctors and nurses begging them to come in to cover unfilled shifts at the last minute, according to allegations made by senior doctors.
‘It is appalling. It is obvious that the bottom line for Harmoni is cash. The evidence is all there,’ BMA member Anna Athow told News Line yesterday.
Harmoni has contracts covering 8,000,000 patients in London and the south and has won more than a quarter of the contracts for the new ‘NHS 111’ service, which will be introduced nationwide from next spring.
But Harmoni acknowledges that it has frequently operated with shifts unfilled, both recently and over an extended period.
Harmoni has also acknowledged that London clinics have had to be closed for several hours on recent occasions because clinicians have not been available to run them.
It is alleged that on the night of Saturday/Sunday 10/11 November, owing to staff shortages, for most of the night only one advanced nurse practitioner was exclusively designated to assess the seriousness of calls from patients to the out-of-hours service for the whole of Harmoni’s London contract area.
This covers Brent, Barnet, Camden, City and Hackney, Ealing, Haringey, Harrow, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Islington, Kingston, Richmond, Twickenham, and Wandsworth, a population of more than 3 million.
In response to the allegation, Harmoni said that four GPs assigned to cars for home visits for the London area were able to cover some of the triage work, taking half of the calls from their vehicles in between home visits, to assess the urgency of cases.
In another example, it has been reported that on 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30 November shifts were unfilled overnight at the Harmoni clinic in St Pancras, with no qualified doctor or nurse to see patients.
The private equity-owned company was sold for £48m to Care UK last month.
Anna Athow commented: ‘There is clear evidence that a whole series of emergency text messages have been sent demanding that doctors shifts are covered at the last minute and the staffing levels even then are terrible.
‘It is appalling that one huge area of London was left with one nurse triaging calls and only four GPs roaming around in cars taking calls.
‘It’s cheapskate, its dangerous and shows only too clearly that out-of-hours cover should never have been handed over to private corporate profit making contractors.
‘We have to prevent this happening to the rest of the NHS and out-of-hours cover has to be brought back in-house.’