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One GP for 500,000 patients in out-of-hours service

View profile for Judith Thomas-Whittingham
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Up to half a million people have to share one out-of-hours GP in parts of England, reports the Telegraph.

A third of Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) have reduced their spending on out-of-hours services, which is a notable increase in numbers, compared to the quarter of PCTs that cut spending in this area in 2010/2011. 

The figures, released following a Freedom of Information request, conclude that 11 trusts employed only one GP to provide cover at night for between 180,000 and 535,000 people.

Cornwall is at the top end, with one GP to 500,000 people on call on 29 May 2012. Their out-of-hours GP care has been provided by Serco, a private firm, since April 2006.

A spokesman for Cornwall and Isles of Scilly PCT said “Serco is recruiting more doctors and we have an agreement with them that there will never be fewer than two doctors on call”.

This is far from the first controversy involving private companies providing GP out-of-hours services. The Telegraph has reported earlier this year that private companies providing these services performed worse, yet are more expensive than co-operatives, which are not for profit organisations run by GPs. 
Dr Fay Wilson, chairwoman of Birmingham out-of-hours co-op BADGER, told GP Online, 'My anxiety is that only big organisations with international backing can provide the service at a knock-down price.’

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey commented, 'If you pare a service down and reduce funding to such a level you may put patients at higher risk.  The cheaper the service is, the less patients are satisfied.'

49.32% of those who took part in Daybreak’s online poll on 10 October 2012 stated they were unhappy with the out-of-office GP care they receive in their area.  We hope that the health of patients will not suffer directly as a result of out-of-hours NHS spending cuts and privatisation.

There is an E Petition available to tackle the problem of getting a GP out of hours.  It closes on 14/12/12. 

By Charlotte Goonan