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Care UK buys largest GP out-of-hours provider

Private healthcare provider Care UK has bought the UK’s largest GP out-of-hours provider, Harmoni, forming an organisation providing unscheduled care to over 15m patients.

Harmoni has been the most successful out-of-hours provider so far in winning the Government’s NHS 111 contracts and in some areas won the contracts over Care UK who bid for several contracts in partnership with Capita.

The news comes after the revelation last month that Department of Health director of improvement and efficiency Jim Easton is to join Care UK as managing director.

Care UK chief executive Mike Parish said, ‘We understand the urgency with which the NHS needs to be able to reduce unscheduled and inappropriate hospital admissions of patients who can and should receive treatment elsewhere.

‘Bringing Harmoni into Care UK’s healthcare organisation will help us to help commissioners within the NHS make the most effective use of their resources, making sure that unscheduled treatment, including out of hours needs, takes place in the most appropriate setting.

‘Harmoni is busy mobilising its new NHS 111 call services, which enable patients to use a single, simple contact point to access unscheduled care and which will allow us as a partner within the NHS to direct those patients to the right local service, which is often not an acute service.’

Harmoni’s managing director Edmund Jahn said : ‘Becoming part of the Care UK family is hugely positive news for our patients, our commissioners and the colleagues who deliver high quality care across all our services. It gives all our services a strong and sustainable platform for the future as we work within Care UK to support the NHS.’

NHS 111 contracts won by Harmoni include all but two of the seven primary care trust clusters in the South West. In Kent, Surrey and Sussex, Harmoni will deliver the service in partnership with South East Coast Ambulance Service Foundation Trust.

Harmoni started out as a GP co-operative in Harrow in 1996. Care UK runs over 50 primary care service – including GP and walk-in services, out-of-hours and diagnostics centres – and six hospitals that carry out elective NHS work.

Dr Michael Dixon, interim president of NHS Clinical Commissioners, said the announcement was a ‘wake-up call’ to CCGs that private companies would increasingly be vying to take over primary care services.

He said: ‘I think this announcement gives us an interesting taste of things to come and what small providers of both out-of-hours and in-hours services could become. 

‘Commissioners have to make sure that they wear the trousers. This is a wake up call as private providers increasingly provide GP services commissioners will need to watch very closely as to whether they are good quality and cost-effective. 

‘They will also need to keep track and make sure that they are not loss leading and therefore putting others as a disadvantage.’

‘There should be a level playing field for everyone so that nothing is guaranteeed, it would be a pity if big companies took over and had a monopoly of provision.’

Dr David Jenner, a GP in Cullompton, Devon and NHS Alliance lead on GMS and PMS, said large companies, such as Care UK, would be able to drive out competition from smaller providers.

He said: ‘Life will be more difficult for GP co-operatives in out-of-hours if this merger means that Harmoni will be able to bid for and run contracts as a loss leader or to use their resources to make favourable bids.

‘In 2003, I predicted that in five years time there would be five or six private providers bidding for GP work in the UK and I think I was a bit premature then, but perhaps if we give it another five more years’.

Story updated 16:51

Readers' comments (17)

  • Fixed pricing and the only way private equity can take 20% + as profit is a combination of reduced overheads and demand.So lower paid front line staff with less job security and benefits including pensions; along with demand management( and good luck with that).
    The unravelling of the universality of "free" care seen with dentistry now erodes medical services. The non union areas of course will be cherry picked first.
    The 2015 election will be the final determinant of this process. A further 5 years will see £15+bn of taxation funds vacuumed out of patient care and into private profits. All in it together?Doesnt feel like it.

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  • Lets hope that Quality and Patient safety are not compromised and that equality and diversity are included in the new service contract structures. I am sure Jim Easton will ensure that they are, as he has always been an exponent of Patient Safety and Quality.

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  • Oh no...all the government money will now go to manager's suits and company cars, manager's offices and perks for the business boys. Harmoni got rid of doctors in triage to replace them with unqualified school leavers to do telephone traige so every call to themgenerated an out of hours clinic visit that they made money on from the practice. We all left harmoni as the conditions were unworkable and our medical director resigned in disgust and warned them over dangerous practices. Clearly the government just want to share its money with other non medical failed businessmen and get rich quick chums of their like bankers to fleece the system at the public's expense. The GMC are ust there to be ready to blame the doctors for the mistakes.

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  • Well if we look at the profit margins, we can see what percentage of tax payers' money goes to managers and what to the clinicians who are the core of the health care system.

    Private companies, non-profit organisations, etc each have a profit after all, paid by the taxpayer. But how about the quality od care their receive?

    I'm not at all supporting these moves towards privatisation and capitalistic inequality in health provisions, which is based on the people's financial power; what I'm trying to say is that we have allowed this to happen because we did not take the opportunity to do the job properly when we had a chance, all because of an easier lifestyle or an attractive paycheck!

    Do we feel cheated now? Yes! A lesson learned? Yes but pricey!

    Signature: 'an emigrating GP'

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  • Good luck to Harmoni's original GP founders/owners - hope they enjoy their millions and new homes in sunnier climes

    Now why didn't I think of that weeze - certainally beats the QOF exception reporting lark most GPs use as a way of generating cash

    Now HMG has decided to up the performance thresholds to 95% (which no city GP's can reach) we'll all have to increase our exception reporting so more of us next year get all the points.

    Didn't we all do well last year? This nonsense will come back to haunt us as GPs in the same way the practice Gyms and swimming pools did in early 90's

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  • Speechless at the audacity and sheer b**ls for privatising the NHS via the back door. Broad day-light theft of precious and decreasing resources. I am sure someone somewhere thinks it was a brilliant idea. What drugs were they on, I wonder?

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  • Up until fundholding was first introduced the NHS didn't really have a business model. Nothing had been costed, there was little consistency of practice and money was wasted by the bucketload. IMHO what we are witnessing now is the tail end of the process, started by fundholding, of trying to impose some business sense on the NHS. I do not question that this is a necessary process, however it has been hampered at every stage by party politics of all colours.

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  • I also meant to say that, according to a certain daily newspaper report yesterday, Care UK has 'combined debts of £5 billion'. If true, isn't this a bit worrying in the circumstances?

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  • (That'll teach me for trying to read/comment with 1yr old grandson in tow).
    Correction: The newspaper report was that 'Britain's biggest care home providers have combined debts of £5billion.... and that Care UK had debts of £480million.' That sounds more realistic a claim, but worrying, none the less.

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  • To be fair OOH is no longer a GP speciality. Most of us dropped it in 2003 when we were valued at £6000/year to provide the service!

    It really is somebody elses problem so why should we care who provides the cover. If you are concerned about the quality of care offered to your patients then start doing your own on call at nights and weekends once again.

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