OUT of Hours services for patients in Gloucestershire are set to be taken over by a private healthcare company for the first time.

Care UK is poised to take over provision of the primary care service from the publicly funded South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust.

Due to tightening budgets the NHS Trust announced last autumn it would be forced to terminate its contract early to focus efforts on the provision of 999/emergency care.

The “interim” deal with Care UK was made after a competitive tender and evaluation process by the Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

The privately contractor, which is Britain’s biggest provider of out-of-hours services, will take over on a short-term 10 month contract from June 1, 2017.

Health chiefs in the county say the deal will help ensure high quality and safety for patients during the interim and have promised a seamless transition.

But NHS campaigners in Stroud have condemned the move as a damning indictment of the current trend of privatisation in local NHS services.

Commenting on the new short-term contract, Mary Hutton, accountable officer CCG, said: “This was a strong bid and we are keen to work with Care UK to ensure high quality, safe and timely out of hours services which fully meet the needs of our patients during this period.

“We know from patients that what they really want is joined up care and treatment with the best possible co-ordination between services. Care UK will work in close partnership with our other local providers to achieve this.

“Over the coming weeks, we will be working with Care UK and the current provider, South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust to ensure a seamless transition and service continuity for the benefit of patients. High quality care will be the top priority.

“We are fortunate that local GPs, nurses and other healthcare professionals working in Gloucestershire have continued to support the Out of Hours service over the years and we will want to work closely with them to retain their skills and expertise.”

Sarah-Jane Graham, director of Integrated Urgent Care at Care UK said: “We are delighted to have been chosen as the preferred bidder and, working closely with partners and other providers, we are looking forward to delivering the best possible service for the people of Gloucestershire.”

However, campaign group Stroud Against the Cuts argued it was yet another example of local NHS services being “handed over” to private companies.

Stroud News and Journal:

James Beecher (above), co-founder, said: "We're angry that yet another local NHS service is set to be privatised.

“We've already seen terrible results when non-emergency ambulances were handed to Arriva.

“Now Out of Hours care is to be taken over by a company that was found to be discharging patients before they had been treated - with a 2015 probe finding they put patients at “huge risk”.

“The company is well known for cutting care workers wages by up to 35 per cent in Doncaster - prompting 90 days of strike action.

“The ongoing privatisation and underfunding of our NHS is exactly why we've organised a coach to take people to the National NHS demonstration on Saturday March 4.

“We are also holding an exhibition about the damage being done by the government and how we can defend our health services from this Saturday 4 till Saturday 11, in the former Millets shop on Stroud High Street.”

When the 10 month contract with Care UK is concluded, a new five to seven year contract will be sought from April 1, 2018.

The CCG hope to work with patients, their representatives and health and care partners to consider what is needed from the service over the longer term.

This will be held alongside a review into the wider urgent and emergency care system in Gloucestershire.

Key features of the primary care Out of Hours service include:

  • Face to face consultations with doctors and nurses at treatment centres in the county or the patient’s home and telephone assessment and advice in support of the NHS 111 service during the out of hours period
  • Urgent medical support out of hours to inpatients in community hospitals within Gloucestershire
  • Responsive clinical advice to patients and other healthcare professionals (including paramedics) through telephone support
  • Seamless transfer of care to other services in line with the patient’s needs
  • Provision of services in safe and secure environments that are supportive of privacy, dignity and confidentiality.

The out-of-hours services are for patients with an urgent need who cannot wait until surgery opening hours.

This period is from 6.30pm to 8.00am on weekdays and all day at weekends and on bank holidays.

Patients will access the primary care Out of Hours service in the same way as they do now, by calling NHS 111.

Care UK currently provides over 20 out-of-hours services across England.