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 www.devonlive.com

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 111.nhs.uk as normal during the transition process