NHS out-of-hours services


A seven-week-old baby with a suspected respiratory infection died in November after repeated calls to the [out-of-hours GP] service over several days, during which it is alleged to have failed to follow protocols in key areas. Sources with knowledge of the case say they fear a four-hour wait for a doctor to see the baby at a Harmoni-run clinic at the Whittington hospital in London on the Saturday he died may have contributed to the tragedy.The Guardian, 18th December, 2012

Most of us know how it feels to call out a doctor at night, or over the weekend. At Christmas, knowing the NHS is there to rely on throughout the holidays offers comfort to us all. Whether we’re coping with a poorly baby, an elderly loved one, or an illness of our own, it’s good to know there’s someone to rely on if we need it.

But now, just before the holidays, we’re finding out that private companies like Serco and Care UK are putting that service in danger. They’ve been cashing in on contracts to provide GP services at the weekend and overnight. Now it looks like they’ve not been doing a proper job – and lives are at risk as a result.

It’s time to rein in these greedy companies. There’s a powerful committee of MPs that has the power to do a proper investigation into their behaviour – and stop them getting further contracts if they’ve been doing a bad job. But there are lots of demands on the committee’s time. They’ll only investigate if they know there’s great public concern.

It’s not just this company in London that’s in trouble over out-of-hours services. In Cornwall, another private company, Serco, took over GP out-of-hours cover last year. They now stand accused of failings which led to just one GP being on duty for the whole of Cornwall, and of falsifying records to hide problems with their service.

The Public Accounts Committee have a strong track record at holding big bosses to account – they recently did just that on tax dodging, hauling companies like Starbucks in for questioning in Parliament. Let’s come together to demand they do the same for private health companies.

The NHS isn’t perfect, but we know how precious it is. At its best it can transform lives, saving people not just from illness but from the fear and loneliness that go alongside it. When private companies like Serco and Care UK abuse this trust, they shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.

Help stop the private health industry endangering people’s lives with dodgy out-of-hours coverage – add your name to the petition to help put pressure on MPs now.