Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

NHS Firm's Health Called into Question; but Company Insists Care Is Not at Risk

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

NHS Firm's Health Called into Question; but Company Insists Care Is Not at Risk

Article excerpt

Byline: Helen Rae

LEADING health experts have raised concerns over a company which is set to take over the North East's 111 non-emergency NHS telephone service.

Vocare Group is a leading care provider for the NHS in the region, operating things such as GP out-of-hours services, urgent care centres and walk-in centres.

But in a confidential document seen by The Journal, the company has admitted it is experiencing issues with some of its contracts.

The report shows Vocare Group has scaled back some services and faced financial penalties for not meeting NHS contractual standards.

It also reveals plans have been made to reduce the number of locum GPs the organisation uses, replacing them with practice nurses and nurse practitioners.

To make savings, the company has identified that it will have to re-organise the business and reduce both frontline and support staff, which is likely to result in some redundancies.

Northern Doctors Urgent Care, which is run by Vocare Group, was awarded a pounds 45m contract with the North East Ambulance Service Foundation Trust to run the region's 111 non-emergency NHS service.

It was initially expected that it would begin to take over the service from NHS Direct this month, but that has now been put back until December.

Health unions have raised concerns as they say "serious questions" have arisen as to whether the company is the right choice to manage the service.

However, bosses at Vocare Group have insisted that the organisation is "highly successful" and a "significant regional employer".

Glenn Turp, Royal College of Nursing northern regional director, said: "We are extremely concerned by these revelations.

"Vocare is a group of private companies that has been entrusted by the commissioners to deliver vital NHS services on behalf of local communities across the North East.

"If they are already experiencing difficulties delivering current NHS contracts, it does raise serious questions about whether they are the right people to take over the new 111 service. It appears that the NHS is fast becoming just a coveted brand or a logo, pursued as a trophy by companies who are not able to deliver the service as well or as efficiently as when it was in-house. …

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