• New provider admits transfer ran into “unforeseen issues”
  • Medway FT gave notice on contract last year
  • Suspected cancer patients being prioritised

Patients have claimed they have been left hanging on the telephone for hours after a dermatology service was transferred to a new provider.

DMC Healthcare took on the service in Medway and North Kent on 1 April, after previous provider Medway Foundation Trust withdrew from the contract.

Since then, there have been reports of patients struggling to contact the new provider about appointments, with some complaining on Twitter they had been left on hold for several hours.

One woman said she was trying to sort out medications which could only be prescribed by a dermatologist but had not been given an appointment, while another claimed to have been on hold for eight and a half hours. A third patient said they had been cut off several times when trying to call. 

In a statement, Ravi Gupta, clinical director for DMC Healthcare, said there had been some “unforeseen issues” during the service transition period.

Dr Gupta said: “In addition to inheriting a larger than expected backlog of patients, we have had a high volume of incoming calls since 1 April. This has made it more difficult for our admin team to call each and every patient in the system to confirm details of their appointments with us.

“DMC is taking prompt steps to rectify the situation, including additional mobile phones for admin teams to dial out on, reviewing [the] phone system map with supplier, and responding specifically to urgent cases reported via social media and emails.

“We have seen close to 1,000 patients in our first two weeks of mobilisation, and our team are working through the backlog of patients to schedule appointments prioritising those with suspected cancer or in urgent need of care.”

New patients who were referred on a two-week pathway for suspected cancer were being seen within that time, he added, and the trust was also prioritising patients on that pathway who had originally been referred to Medway FT. All patients on the pathway were being tracked and were discussed at weekly clinical meetings.

HSJ reported last October Medway FT had given notice on the contract for the Swale, Medway and Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley areas after hundreds of patients had breached the two-week wait for suspected cancer cases. A key consultant had retired and the trust found it difficult to recruit locums.

In February, Medway Clinical Commissioning Group announced DMC Healthcare had been appointed and 16 staff subsequently transferred from the trust.

Stuart Jeffery, deputy managing director at Medway CCG, which led on the procurement, said patients who had an appointment booked at Medway FT were sent a letter telling them DMC would be in touch to rebook. “We are in daily contact with DMC and have been working collaboratively since the mobilisation of the service,” he added.

The new service, which the CCG said would be more convenient and offer shorter waiting times, is operating from six community hospitals and GP centres across Swale, Medway and Gravesend.