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GPs protest as out-of-hours contract transferred to private company

By Gareth Iacobucci

More than 200 doctors have delivered a petition to health secretary Andrew Lansley in protest at NHS managers' decision to transfer out-of-hours care in their area to a private firm.

GPs in North London claim the decision to replace existing provider CAMIDOC, a non-profit making company run by GPs, with private firm Harmoni could place patients at risk, and accused managers of carrying out the move without consulting patients or GPs.

In an open letter to local MPs and PCT bosses, the doctors accused managers of a ‘total lack of transparency' over the plans, which NHS Camden said had been drawn up in response to CAMIDOC's recent financial problems.

But GPs said the problems with the service – which covers Camden, Islington, City and Hackney and Haringey - were ‘primarily caused by a lack of funding from the PCTs', and said repeated requests from CAMIDOC for extra funding had been ignored.

The doctors said the switch would leave the local service bereft of basic medical equipment, due to Harmoni's policy of not providing emergency resuscitation equipment, portable oxygen or defibrillators.

The letter requested that the current proposals to transfer care immediately 'be put on hold until proper consultation with interested parties occurs'.

A statement from NHS Camden said: ‘The PCTs concluded that CAMIDOC was technically insolvent [and] were also concerned that CAMIDOC's financial difficulties could compromise future service delivery in both the short and longer term.'

‘Legal advice has confirmed that there is no obligation to consult under section 242 off the NHS Act as there is no change in service provision between CAMIDOC and Harmoni.'

Harmoni chief executive Andrew Gardner said: ‘Harmoni has not up until now provided oxygen or defibrillators in the London region since we work very closely with London Ambulance Service (LAS). However, we will be taking over the CAMIDOC cars which all carry defibrillators and oxygen.'

‘Any patient needing resuscitation would still ideally be cared for by LAS. This enables any potential life-threatening emergencies to be dealt with by the appropriate emergency services.'

The transfer of an out-of-hours service in north London has prompted a petition from GPs