Published: 20:00, 28 September 2020
| Updated: 11:36, 29 September 2020
At least 18 serious health incidents are being investigated by Kent NHS bosses after GP and dermatology services were stripped from the control of a private medical company in July.
The Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has revealed that an independent review is taking place to see if delays to treatment for thousands of patients using services run by DMC healthcare in north Kent have "caused harm".
This comes after the NHS took away contracts £4.1m worth a year from the private firm due to patient safety fears in June. DMC was responsible for nearly 60,000 patients at nine surgeries in Medway and skin condition services for other parts of Kent.
Medway Council's health scrutiny committee chairman, Cllr David Wildey (Con), described the decision to allow DMC to take control of key health services in Kent as a "total failure".
But, Nikki Teesdale, who is the associate director of commissioning at Kent and Medway's CCG, said it was "too early" to reach definitive conclusions around the 18 serious cases.
Speaking to a panel of eight councillors earlier today, she said: "We have had lower numbers than we originally anticipated coming through, which is good.
"We have 18 serious incidents cleared so far. In addition, out of the high number of patients waiting a significant period for treatment to date we have five patients that may have come to additional harm.
"Until we have got those patients through those treatment programmes, we are not able to determine what the level of harm has been."
Ms Teesdale said that several "clinical reviews" had been taking place with patients who were being seen by the new and emergency provider, Sussex Community Dermatology Service (SCDS).
Dermatologists are specialist physicians who diagnose and treat diseases of the skin, hair and nails. According to Ms Teesdale, there was a backlog of around 7,500 dermatology Kent patients in June, but that has been cut to 800.
A "significant" amount of consultants were brought in and have been running extended services, with the work carried out by Sussex staff described as "phenomenal". Clinics have taken place at Rainham Healthy Living Centre and Fleet Health Campus in Northfleet.
Despite this, the NHS continues to face criticism over the handling of the crisis as several councillors raised concerns during a virtual meeting of Kent and Medway's joint health scrutiny committee earlier today.
Medway Council's deputy opposition leader, Cllr Theresa Murray (Lab), revealed that some patients have told her about the need to access counselling services amid the debacle.
Cllr Wildey (Con) added: "At different times we were told that services were fine and adequate and now you are telling us the same about SDCS.
"How can we be assured you are right this time and have you learnt any lessons in your commissioning process?"
In response, Ms Teesdale admitted the DMC service had gone "significantly wrong" but assured the committee that Kent and Medway CCG bosses that they were "satisfied" with the new contractor.
She added the NHS now receive "clean" weekly data about patients and detailed information around their conditions.
Ms Teesdale said: "We are very confident we are monitoring this service well and patients are being seen. The way that Sussex have turned around the service is quite phenomenal."
A final decision over the long-term contractor has yet to be made and it is not a "full given" that SCDS will be the provider, the committee was told.