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PEOPLE POWER STOPS HEALTH SCHEME
A CONTROVERSIAL telephone helpline that patients were unwittingly signed up to has been postponed.
Wirral’s Primary Care Trust wilted under pressure after it was deluged with complaints about the Wirral Keep Well scheme.
The service - designed to try to reduce hospital admissions - would have offered telephone advice from nurses and other health professionals.
But the PCT launched it without explaining that the service would be run by the private firm Health Dialog, which is owned by Bupa and has its base in Boston, Massachusetts.
The Wirral service would have operated out of a call centre in Cambridge.
People were also only notified of the scheme - which would cost about £9.60 per patient - in a postcard which gave only brief details of what it entailed.
Initial calls to a helpline number failed to gather any further information. Most controversially, many patients were angry that the scheme was something they would have to opt out from - and were initially only given two weeks in which to do so - rather than volunteering themselves to join it.
Now the scheme - that some GPs had already opted out from - has been suspended.
Leah Fraser, the councillor for Liscard who protested against the “opting out” aspect of the plan, said: “Had the Globe not exposed the plans of the PCT, our personal and confidential health records would, by now, be on their way to this American company.
She continued: “This is, without doubt, a victory for common sense.
“We must also thank the thousands of patients across Wirral who have flooded their GPs with ‘opt outs’.
“It is clear from the comments made by the PCT chief executive Kathy Doran that this project had major flaws and should never have got as far as it did. I also believe that the PCT have, perhaps, learned a lesson from when they closed wards 6 and 7 at Victoria Central Hospital.
“Among many people in Wallasey, the reputation of the PCT has never recovered. It seems they were not prepared to risk a repeat of ignoring public opinion this time.”
Ms Doran admits in a letter to the Globe this week: ”Concerns were mainly around data protection, confidentiality of patient information, a lack of clarity on the benefits of the service for patients and the way this was communicated to Wirral residents.”
But accusing the Globe of “misinformation”, she adds: “I am confident that our proposals are fully compliant with all UK data protection laws and NHS best practice.
“There has never been any intention to send patient data to America, nor will there be. I can also assure your readers that no data has been shared, nor do they need to take any further action in respect of opting out.
“The PCT intends to take time to respond to people’s concerns and to ensure that this valuable service and its benefits are clearly communicated. It is for this reason that we have decided to postpone the introduction of Wirral Keep Well.
“The PCT will continue to work with its GPs and patient represent-atives to ensure that when we introduce the service, what it is and its benefits will be clearly explained and Wirral residents will be able to make a fully informed decision about using it.
“We will be writing to all Wirral residents to update them.”
Former Liscard Labour councillor Dave Hawkins said: “I think we must give full marks to the Globe. Their robust report ensured that the PCT will now step back and rethink the quality of its consultation.
“The PCT has now clarified some misunderstandings and thanks to the Globe they have come clean about their lack of transparency and their misjudgment about opting out, instead of opting in to the scheme.
“What we now need is meaningful consultation so that the people of Wirral know exactly what it is they are being offered so that they can make informed judgments about whether they wish to participate.
“I’m glad to see that the PCT will now write to every Wirral household with better information. I hope they will also consult with the council and the Wirral Members of Parliament.”