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GP practice loses phone line for four days due to cable theft

LMCs are warning practices to check their business continuity plans after GP practice in north London lost its telephone service for four days as a result of massive cable theft.

Londonwide LMCs said practices need to ensure they have contingency plans for breakdowns of communications - or risk potential breach of contract notices from PCTs.

The cable theft incident took place at the end of last month, when staff at the six-partner Somerset Gardens family care centre in Tottenham came into work one morning to find their phones were out of action.

Practice manager Marion Lombardelli told Pulse: ‘It was a bit of shock because it meant our computers were down too. We got onto BT, and then our out-of-hours provider Harmoni and asked them to handle our calls which they did for a handling fee. We also let our PCT and LMC know as well as local hospitals, pharmacists and nursing homes.

'After that it was all hands to the pumps. Patients were seen as they came in, the doctors worked all day and a nurse practitioner did extra shifts so there was no backlog.'

Tony Grewal, medical director of Londonwide LMCs, warned that the GP contract stipulated that practices make reasonable arrangements for continuity of patient services and said that recent cases showed PCTs would act if these weren't made.

'In this case the practice coped admirably and crucially they informed their PCT quickly. But I'm aware of another practice which received a breach of contract notice and a remedial notice from its PCT after they lost phone contact for half a day because of BT repairing a cable. This was extremely harsh, as no harm occurred, but they didn't inform the PCT until later and had nothing in their business continuity plan for such an eventuality.

‘You need to have some sort of backup in place and to inform the PCT promptly as a minimum.'

In an article on its website, Londonwide LMCs said: ‘Possible solutions include arranging with a neighbouring practice to accept diverted calls and using mobiles or e-mail to pass messages back to the affected practice or diverting calls to an out of hours provider who would then act as a message service, again using e-mails to pass messages back.  Practices would need to ensure that they have access to enough mobile phones to deal with such an occurrence.'

Dr Grewal added: ‘With the current state of the NHS, the dormouse is in the teapot and strange behaviours are coming out of dying PCTs which are desperately trying to assert themselves. At the moment, GPs would be well advised to have a business continuity plan for tsunami.'

BT had to replace over a hundred metres of damaged cable after the theft in Tottenham and police have offered a reward for information.