Respected Newick GP, Dr Herry Ashby, has told the Middy that he believes the out-of-hours system linked to the 111 service in East Sussex is “far superior” to the one operating in neighbouring West Sussex.
The East Sussex service, Integrated Care 24 (IC24), is a not-for-profit organisation linked to the South East Coast Ambulance Service, unlike the Harmoni service, a subsidiary of Care UK, which has the contract in West Sussex.
‘NHS Undercover’, a Channel 4 Dispatches programme, alleged this week that Harmoni-run NHS 111 call centres in Dorking and Bristol made callers wait for long periods of time.
A Harmoni call centre manager was secretly filmed saying: “Realistically, on the weekends we are still unsafe. We don’t have the staff to deal with the calls that are coming in.”
Harmoni has denied these allegations, accusing the programme of ignoring “much evidence of good practice” and “taking individual comments and opinions out of context”.
Dr Ashby, who has retired from his GP practice in Newick but regularly works as a freelance out-of-hours doctor in East Sussex, said: “The GP-co-operative system that exists in East Sussex is vastly superior to that in West Sussex because it is linked to the ambulance service, where there is an appropriate level of advisor.
“There were times when our system was overloaded, at Christmas for example, but we were never in meltdown. The only difference now is that NHS 111 takes the initial calls and passes them on to IC24.”
Harmoni stresses on its website that its NHS 111 call handlers are answering around 95 per cent of calls within 60 seconds – the target level set by the NHS. On average, Harmoni says it is taking “less than 25 minutes to call back non-emergency patients” and adds: “Our services are all clinically led, we prioritise cases on the basis of clinical need and we do not compromise safety.”