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Urgent care company collapse leaves GPs just 10 days to find out-of-hours cover

A number of GP practices are being forced to urgently seek replacement out-of-hours cover after the private company providing services on their behalf gave them just 10 days’ notice of ceasing operations.

Primecare, which forms part of the financially struggling Allied Healthcare group, wrote last week to over 20 Birmingham GP practices for which it directly provides out-of-hours cover, informing them they would stop services by the end of the month.

The decison also affects a number of CCGs, which have been told the services they contract from Primecare will cease by mid-December.

NHS Walsall CCG, NHS Sandwell and West Birmingham CCG, NHS Herefordshire CCG and NHS Nene CCG all hold out-of-hours and urgent care services contract with the company, while Primecare also forms part of a wider NHS 111 and out-of-hours contract covering more than a dozen West Midlands CCGs.

It comes after the CQC issued a letter to councils regarding Allied Healthcare on 6 November, warning of a risk of ‘service disruption’ because the provider could fail.

Primecare’s letter to GP practices, sent 20 November, said: ‘It is with regret that I write to inform you that as a result of the decision by our group, Allied Healthcare, to cease all operations by mid-December 2018, Primecare (a division of Allied Healthcare) will no longer be in a position to provide individual GP practices with primary medical services including GP out-of-hours opted-in cover, half-day cover, ad hoc cover or any telephone-based services as from 1 December 2018.

‘You are advised to make urgent contact with your relevant CCGs to discuss contingency plans for the provision of these services.’

Birmingham LMC executive secretary Dr Robert Morley told Pulse that ‘around 24’ Birmingham GP practices have ‘subcontracted their out-of-hours care directly from Primecare’.

He said: ‘These practices and their patients – of which there will be many tens of thousands directly affected by this – have been given only ten days’ notice to put alternative arrangements in place… 

‘One can only hope that these practices will be able to find alternative services, but the problem is, will another provider of out-of-hours services be able to mobilise quickly enough and take on this extra workload at such a busy time of the year?

‘If practices cannot find an alternative provider in time, they will have to personally provide the care themselves, which is a huge undertaking.’

He added that the patients of the CCGs contracting Primecare to provide out-of-hours services would also be ‘massively affected’.

‘The action of Primecare in just ceasing its activities without giving any safe or adequate notice to practices is absolutely disgraceful. It’s clearly paying scant regard for the care and patients it’s been responsible for.

‘This is yet another example of the difficulties caused by commercial providers of services within the NHS – whether its back-room services or direct patient care,’ Dr Morley said.

A Primecare spokesperson said: ‘We have been liaising closely with our customers to ensure that they are supported in securing alternative providers to deliver these services.

‘We are committed to working with both CCGs and GP practices to ensure safe continuity of patient care throughout the handover process.’

CCGs who contracted Primecare directed Pulse to the Department of Health and Social Care for comment.

A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘All CCGs and NHS Trusts have robust contingency plans in place to make sure individuals’ care and support needs continue to be met.

‘Our priority is to ensure essential services remain in place. We are working closely with NHS England to support the relevant CCGs to ensure there is no disruption to services.’