Published: 08:33, 21 July 2020
| Updated: 08:40, 21 July 2020
A helpline has been set up after a private company left thousands of skincare patients at risk as they waited for treatment.
DMC Healthcare had allowed a backlog of urgent appointments - including for the diagnosis and treatment of cancers - to pile up for dermatology services in Dartford, Gravesham, Medway, Swale and Swanley.
Health bosses suspended the north Kent services last month, and now a smaller contract in the east of the county covering 200 patients in the former Ashford and Canterbury and Coastal CCG areas has also been scrapped.
In north Kent, there were 1,855 patients needing urgent treatment and a further 7,500 people were on the service waiting list. About 700 people had been waiting over a year.
As well as a severe and widespread delays in appointments, the quality of DMC's patient data is also being questioned.
Paula Wilkins, chief nurse at Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “In mid-June we suspended most of DMC’s dermatology service when we became concerned about patient safety.
“Dermatology consultants from a new interim service are seeing the most urgent patients and reviewing the service waiting list. This has given us a clearer picture of the extent of the problems with the service.
“I’m very sorry to say, we now know there have been delays in appointments, including for the diagnosis and treatment of cancers, and that has exposed people to the risk of harm."
Dermatology services deal with skin conditions which can include rashes, lesions, lumps on the skin, changes to moles and skin cancer.
As a result of DMC's failures, a helpline is becoming operational today - giving concerned patients the chance to discuss their conditions with experts.
“We are contacting patients directly and working with local GPs to review patients who may need follow up treatment. But we have some concerns about the quality of DMC’s patient data so we cannot be 100% confident we have contact information for every patient.
“The helpline is to make sure we have picked up everyone who is waiting for treatment; and also for people who have been treated by the DMC service already and have concerns about the care they received.
'There is a clearer picture of the extent of the problems with the service...'
“We are very sorry this has happened and we are working hard to make sure everyone affected gets the treatment they need without any further delays.
“Every patient will be offered a face-to-face appointment with a consultant.
"In many cases patients will have their condition reviewed and, if needed, treatment done on the same day. If the treatment needed cannot be done on the same day people will be booked onto rapid access cancer lists and seen within three weeks.”
The new interim service run by an experienced team of consultant dermatologists has seen the patient waiting list cut down.
About 1,000 patients with the most urgent needs have so far been seen, including urgent referrals which have come in since the DMC service was suspended.
The full list of about 10,000 patients is hoped to be cleared in the next 12 weeks.
Ms Wilkins added: “If anyone has an immediate need for health advice they should call 111 or in an emergency 999.
"Our helpline will be taking details of patients who may be waiting for dermatology treatment or have concerns about the care they have received. People will be then be contacted by either the clinical team or a member of my quality team to follow up.”
The helpline number is 0300 555 0708 and the lines open at 9am today (Tuesday).
It will be open from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday. Messages can be left if the line is busy or on evenings and weekends.