Devon Doctors loses NHS 111 and urgent care contract

Devon Doctors has lost its contract to run Devon’s troubled urgent care services six years after taking it over.

Anita Merritt

Last month it was announced that Devon’s NHS 111 and out of hours GP service had been taken out of special measures after being rated inadequate in 2020 after urgent improvements were demanded.

A new organisation has now been appointed called Practice Plus Group Urgent Care, formerly known as Care UK Health Care. In the meantime, Exeter-based Devon Doctors will continue running the service until October.

Plus Group Urgent Care currently answers 1.5million calls a year to NHS 111, and runs out of hours services, urgent treatment centres, minor injuries units, hospitals and general practices nationwide.

Its NHS 111 service in Bristol was the first to be rated outstanding by independent health and social care regulator Care Quality Commission (CQC).

It is a stark contrast to Devon’s NHS 111. In July 2020, it was inspected by the CQC after concerns were raised about the service including safety fears and insufficient staffing to meet expected demand.

They included that prior to lockdown in March 2020, up to 300 call backs were reallocated back to patients’ own in hours GPs on Monday mornings as they had not been addressed by the service over the weekend.

It resulted in considerable delays for some patients in accessing advice or treatment, with some patients having waited up to 17 hours for contact from the service.

The inspection looked specifically at Devon NHS 111 and out of hours service, and some areas of the Somerset out of hours provision.

The service was inspected again in December 2020, and was placed into special measures, as the service was rated inadequate for being effective and well-led.

The purpose of special measures is to ensure that providers found to be providing inadequate care significantly improve. It is done by proving a framework of improvement and clear timeframe for changes to be made.

A further review in May 2021 found conditions imposed by the CQC had been met with further recommendations still ongoing.

An announced comprehensive inspection was then carried out over three days at the beginning November 2021, to follow up on breaches of regulations and to determine whether the service could be taken out of special measures.

The results of the inspection were published in January and the service’s overall rating is now ‘requires improvement’.

Prior to then, a rigorous, competitive procurement process was carried out for the future running of the service. Devon Doctors was among those who put in a bid and is said to be ‘disappointed’ to have not been successful.

Devon’s Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) built in a number of conditions for bidders to enter the tender process, including experience of delivering similar services and experience of service transformation.

The contract is for five years from 1 October 2022, with room for a three-year extension.

Practice Plus Group Urgent Care will run, Devon’s NHS 111, out-of-hours GP services and ClinicalAssessment Services (CAS) in which clinicians use their expertise to respond to callers, prioritising cases and directing people to the most appropriate services.

Out-of-hours and NHS 111 services have been under pressure for the last few years, both in Devon and nationwide, particularly since the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Paul Johnson, clinical chair of Devon CCG, said: “We are confident that people in Devon will see real improvements in the 111 and GP out-of-hours services.

“It is critically important that patients can access these services easily and then receive timely, high-quality care according to their needs.

“The CCG would like to thank Devon Doctors for its dedication and hard work over the past years in providing the service.”

The specification for the contract was partly built on what patients using the service told the CCG they needed and what they wanted to change.

Questions to bidders were based on a range of factors including the insight provided by those using the NHS 111 and GP out-of-hours services. Patient representatives were involved in the final evaluation of the bids.

Kevin Brown, director of Integrated Urgent Care at Practice Plus Group, said: “We are delighted to have been given this responsibility to support patients and NHS services across Devon.

“We will place collaboration, partnership working and innovation at the centre of the service to ensure that urgent and out-of-hours NHS care is comprehensive, resilient and easy to access locally.

“Between now and October we will be working closely with the existing team and the current provider, with whom we already have a strong relationship, and with NHS commissioners, GPs and other local NHS services to understand how we can best meet the current and future needs of patients in all parts of the community.”

A spokesperson for Devon Doctors said: “We were disappointed to learn that our bid to continue running Devon’s integrated urgent care service has been unsuccessful.

“We will be working closely with NHS Devon CCG and the new provider to ensure a smooth transfer of services between now and October 1, 2022. In the meantime, our priority continues to be to provide the best possible service for patients in the county.”

Local people will still be able to contact 111 and use the out-of-hours doctor service by phone on 111 or online at as normal during the transition process

Cash strapped council to have fewer meetings after damning report

Wirral Council is set to cut the number of committees it has, after being criticised for having an ‘overelaborate’ system last year.

George Morgan 

Two reports into the council, published last November, were highly critical and said it had avoided tough decisions, with councillors focused on “political point scoring”.

One of the reports, by Ada Burns, looked at the governance of the council and the move from a cabinet system, which gave a lot of power to just 10 councillors, to a committee system which spreads power more evenly across all 66 councillors.

One section of Ms Burns’ report read: “[The new system] has clearly improved member engagement but poses a further risk to the improvement journey because of its immaturity, its overelaborate design, and the administrative burden it’s placing on officers.

“The number of committees and requirements to ensure appropriate briefing of all the five political groups in the lead up to each meeting is posing a significant resource burden on the council.”

Any impact on the council’s resources is particularly important at the moment, as the local authority needs to agree a budget which includes £20m worth of savings on February 28.

To deal with some of the criticisms in the Ada Burns report, tonight’s meeting of Wirral Council’s Constitution and Standards Committee decided to cut the number of policy and services committees, the main decision making committees in the council, down from seven to six.

Committees for issues such as the economy, adult social care, environment and transport, tourism and leisure, and education, along with the most powerful committee, called Policy and Resources, will remain.

The main change agreed to tonight will see the responsibilities of the Housing Committee rolled into the Economy, Regeneration and Development Committee.

But Cllr Tom Anderson, who leads the Conservative group on the council, wanted to go even further and cut the number of committees to five.

He thought the administrative burden would not be shifted unless this change was made.

However, Labour’s Paul Stuart disagreed, and said there were other ways of cutting workload such as keeping committee agendas concise and not having lots of “irrelevant” reports to note.

Cllr Stuart said the number of committees could be reviewed again in the next year.

The committee voted by eight to three to reject the move to just five committees, with Labour, and the sole Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent councillors against and the Conservatives in favour.

The original proposal to move from seven to six committees was then passed.

Boris Johnson allowed to read Partygate evidence before answering police questions

Boris Johnson is being allowed to read evidence gathered about him by the inquiry into the No 10 parties before answering police questions, a leaked letter reveals. 

Sue Gray has granted permission to everyone under investigation – all Downing Street staff and the prime minister – limited access to notes taken about them by her inquiry.

The letter, seen by ITV News, says she is allowing the access “as an exceptional measure”, pointing to the “particular circumstances surrounding this set of events”.

Dated 17 February, it reads: “I appreciate that this is a worrying time for those affected by this process, which I do not wish to compound,” ITV said.

The move – revealed ahead of Friday night’s deadline for Mr Johnson to submit his legal questionnaire – means he and all those under investigation will know what information the police hold on them, before responding.

It raises questions about whether, if an individual learns there is nothing incriminating in the notes on them, he or she will volunteer any additional information to the Met.

Mr Johnson is believed to be working in Downing Street today, ahead of flying to the Munich security conference on Saturday to deliver a speech on Russia’s threat to Ukraine.

Ms Gray has set strict conditions on the access allowed, including that it must be “with a member of the investigation team present” and be “time limited”.

“You will, in line with the process for investigations of this kind and in keeping with the interview process, not be allowed to bring any legal representative with you.” ITV said she has written.

“You will not be permitted to bring phones, tablets, computers or any other recording equipment into the room with you.

“You will not be permitted to challenge, suggest changes or amendments to the notes or otherwise challenge their contents.”

Mr Johnson is still fighting for his political life and will come under huge pressure to quit if it is confirmed he attended, or knew about, any parties that broke the law.

He has hired a personal lawyer to help him draft his response to questionnaire, in which he will argue it was part of his working day when he attended as many as six different gatherings.

The prime minister is in greatest danger over the “bring your own bottle” party in the No 10 garden, in May 2020, which he has admitted attending – while claiming he did not realise it was a party.

He has also not denied attending the “Abba party” in his flat in November 2020 – to celebrate the departure of Dominic Cummings – and appears to be preparing to argue he was working while it went on.

Last month, Ms Gray passed her evidence – including around 300 photographs – to the Met, which launched a separate investigation that has delayed the publication of her report.

Questionnaires have been sent to around 80 people under investigation, who may be issued with fixed penalty notices if they have broken Covid rules.

Staff will not be allowed to view any information Ms Gray gathered on anyone except themselves.