Wiltshire

Private company to stop running Swindon GP appointments

Telephone keypad
Image caption Some patients said they were kept waiting on the phone for an hour only to be told there were no appointments

A private company responsible for running appointment systems at five GP surgeries in Swindon "will withdraw from its operations", the NHS has said.

Integral Medical Holdings (IMH) took over services for five health centres and 50,000 patients in Swindon in 2017.

But patients complained they were kept waiting on the phone for an hour only to be told there were no appointments.

Swindon's Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said patients should continue to contact their surgeries as normal.

The Manchester-based company took over the back-office management and IT services at Moredon Medical Centre, Abbey Meads Medical Centre, Phoenix Surgery, Eldene Surgery and Taw Hill Medical Practice.

Since then, the CCG said patients had "continually raised concerns" about the difficulty of getting through to their surgeries and making appointments.

'End its contract'

Some patients told the BBC of three to four-week waiting lists and claimed "it was quicker to phone the hospital instead" to access blood test results.

On Tuesday, the IMH blamed the "unfortunate situation" on a "technical issue" and said it was working with its telephone service provider to "resolve this technical fault".

But following a meeting with the company, the CCG said IMH had "agreed to end its contract with the five practices".

"Earlier this month, the CCG issued IMH with a remedial notice, which requires a provider to take immediate action when there is sufficient reason to believe a contract has been breached," a CCG spokesperson said.

"The CCG will now begin exploring and identifying with each of the practices the most appropriate solution going forward."

It added that IMH would continue working in Swindon "with oversight from the CCG, while this process is carried out".

A spokeswoman for IMH said: "IMH Group is sorry for the distress caused by the recurring issues with the new telephone booking system we introduced at our hub of five GP practices in Swindon.

"As soon as the problem came to light, we liaised with the telephone service provider Premier to rectify it. Unfortunately, Premier only acknowledged last week that the situation is being caused by technical issues rather than user error. Their engineers are currently on site working on addressing the problem.

"We will work closely with Swindon CCG to ensure the handover to a new provider is as smooth as possible and patients can access their primary care services."

Premier has been contacted by the BBC but has refused to comment.

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