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Bigger role for co-ops will reduce GPs' daytime work

Government plans for more out-of-hours calls to be handled by GP co-operatives rather than NHS Direct will mean less work for GPs if they ditch their 24-hour responsibility, co-ops have claimed.

Co-op GPs predicted the move would mean fewer patients returning to their GP during the day because quality of care during the out-of-hours period would improve.

The Department of Health was forced to ditch its pledge that NHS Direct would handle all out-of-hours calls first after repeated complaints from co-ops about the service offered by the nurse helpline.

The exemplar programme in which co-ops piloted links with NHS Direct has been plagued with problems since its launch in 2001.

GPs have complained about lengthy call-handling times, calls having to be triaged twice and too many patients being told by NHS Direct to visit their GP or accident and emergency unit.

Ministers announced the policy shift as part of a £100 million, three-year funding package to help primary care organisations provide out-of-hours services under the new contract.

Dr Alex Yeates, medical director of Medway Doctors on Call, based in Kent, said GPs had been worried that patients not properly dealt with during the out-of-hours period would return during the day.

'I think at last they have seen sense over NHS Direct,' he said.

'The worry is that if GPs opt out and do not have any say in what happens to their patients that will just lead to problems.'

The department has insisted NHS Direct will continue to take some out-of-hours calls, but has agreed that GPs rather than NHS Direct nurses can also be the first point of contact.

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