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Brown stirs up row on out-of-hours access

Gordon Brown has prompted anger among GPs after using an inquiry into the death of an out-of-hours patient to ramp up pressure for improvements to access to GPs.

A report investigating the death of 41-year-old Penny Campbell over Easter 2005 heavily criticised the systems in place at out-of-hours provider Camidoc, which had made it difficult for GPs to access patient records.

She died of multiple organ failure from septicaemia six days after a routine surgical procedure, despite having had contact with eight different Camidoc doctors over the Easter weekend in question.

The inquiry, which exonerated six of the eight GPs involved in the case over the three-day weekend, concluded that Camidoc had been adequately staffed at the time.

But Mr Brown said the case highlighted the need to extend facilities for night and weekend cover and said people needed 'more access to doctors'.

His comments came a few weeks after he made a pledge to improve GP access as a central plank of his leadership bid.

GP leaders retaliated angrily, saying the Government was to blame for the failure of private OOH companies to set up appropriate systems.

GPC deputy-chair Dr Laurence Buckman said: 'It shows how much mileage politicians can make out of something when they don't subject it to even the most cursory analysis.

'I'm sure Gordon Brown and his Government will direct a large amount of energy to abusing GPs because it's the mainstay of their health policy.'

He added: 'The independent organisations that employ out-of-hours doctors should learn from this tragedy and act on the lessons.'

Dr Prasad Rao, a GP in Stoke- on-Trent and chair of North Staffordshire Urgent Care Ltd, said: 'The report found it was not the fault of the practitioners.'

He added there was an obsession with GPs being available but said the Government had failed to decide what it wanted.

The Department of Health's patient access survey, which has been slammed by the BMA for containing leading questions, may further fuel the fire over access when its results are published in the next few weeks.

The report, put together by Camidoc and its PCT commissioners, said organisations should consider the implications of the Penny Campbell case for their own services.

Dr Peter Reader, medical director at Islington PCT, who took part in the independent inquiry, said septicaemia as presented in this case was incredibly rare.'The condition can change in a matter of hours. It's important to remember that the report exonerated the performance of six doctors.'

Lessons for out-of-hours providers

• Perception that OOH services are 'holding bay' until GP resumes care needs to be addressed

• 'Policy confusion' over whether OOH is for urgent or unscheduled care should be resolved

• DH should 'clarify national expectations' of the role and performance of OOH care

• Profile of OOH services needs to be raised and reputation of OOH doctors should be recognised

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