Is a private US firm about to take over a key part of our health services?

Sorry about the short notice but I’ve just discovered that our local Health Service is consulting about out-of-hours GP services – and we only have until Friday to respond.

Our out-of-hours services are the people who provide help when we are at our sickest. They are the doctors who come and look after us when we call them out in the dead of night or who we can go to – currently Camidoc. Without them, every time we got ill in the middle of the night we’d have to drag our sickly selves to A&E – which is not what A&E was intended for, waiting for hours before receiving treatment and wasting thousands of pounds in taxpayers money – or worse still – go without treatment and get really really sick.

So why are they consulting? Well that’s a very good question. Currently our out-of-hours service is provided by Camidoc, and most people agree they do a good job. I’ve met with them myself and that was certainly my impression. They are local and they know the area well. However Camden, Islington, Haringey and Hackney & City Primary Care Trusts (the people that run our NHS) have clubbed together to see if they can get a better deal by tendering the service again – and seeing if anyone else wants to bid for it.

Whilst it is right to try and get the best service for local people, the situation now is that literally anybody can apply to run the service. In Camden, United Health – the largest American for-profit healthcare provider – have just caused uproar by winning the contract to run three GPs surgeries and they may well bid to run our out-of-hours service.

Now I’ve always thought the NHS was my party’s greatest achievement (it was the brainchild of a Liberal – William Beveridge) and I’ve always thought it works best when it’s run for the greater good – not for profit.

But there are practical arguments against a private takeover as well. Camidoc is run by doctors who know the area well. Under Camidoc you may well know the doctor treating you – and even if you don’t you can certainly be sure that they know your area and how to find your house. When you’re at your illest and most vulnerable you’re probably not going to be best able to give directions over the phone to a faceless, nameless doctor who has never been to Haringey before.

So please respond to the consultation straight away – and certainly before Friday night. It is right to have an open tender – and you may not have the same view of Camidoc that I do – but if you are very worried about private American-style for-profit organisations taking over this important service then please take this opportunity to say so.

The easiest way to respond is to email PALS@camdenpct.nhs.uk and you can find out more about the consultation and read the documentation at http://doctorsinthenight.notlong.com