Harmoni, the company brought in to run Kingston’s privatised GP out-of-hours services, has been accused of serious safety violations that put the lives of millions of people across London at risk.
It is claimed that on the night of 10 November a staff shortage meant that only one advanced nurse practitioner was designated to assess the seriousness of calls to the GP out-of-hours service for all of Harmoni’s areas across London, including Kingston, covering some 3 million people.
Fred Kavalier, who resigned as a clinical lead for Harmoni after just six weeks over safety concerns, recently revealed a shocking account of the way in which privatisation and the introduction of the profit-motive into NHS services is damaging patient care in South West London:
“In one case, the parents of a young child who lived in South West London rang Harmoni. Their call was answered by a Harmoni nurse in West Sussex, who advised them to take the child to a Harmoni centre in North London (a distance of about 13 miles across London). When I suggested to my Harmoni superiors that this was not a good way to deal with an ill child, they seemed amazed. No targets had been breached, I was told.”
This example is typical of the way in which private companies cut costs and put patient’s lives at risk in order to maximise profit. Harmoni is now being sued by a Norfolk family over the death of a 19 year old woman, while questions are being raised about a seven week old baby that died in the Harmoni-run clinic at Whittington Hospital after having its danger status downgraded from “urgent”. It is alleged that crucial checks were missed because of understaffing – and that on the day in question, doctors were being sent desperate texts asking for them to help out with the assessment of cases being phoned into the out-of-hours service.
These cases are a chilling insight into an NHS that is increasingly being sold into the hands of those who want to make big profits. Harmoni, which won the out-of-hours contract for Kingston in June 2011, was recently bought by private medicine giant Care UK for £48 million. Five of Harmoni’s directors were handed a £1 million pay-out. Care UK is owned by the same sort of private equity firms that collapsed care home provider Southern Cross in 2011.
The risk of serious clinical failings caused by privatisation is bound to motivate further resistance to the attack on our NHS. As Fred Kavalier says, “my main concern is that we are watching the NHS services being replaced by commercial services whose directors are mostly interested in the bottom line of their spreadsheets, and hardly interested in patient care.”