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Government guarantees GPs will cover out-of-hours shifts

Primary care trusts must ensure they have GPs providing out-of-hours cover, the Government has stipulated.

To ease growing fears over patient safety when trusts take on responsibility, health minister John Hutton pledged patients will still be able to see a GP if they need to 'within a safe period of time'.

But the ruling means several trusts that had been planning to use only nurses and paramedics and new 'emergency care practitioners' will have to entice GPs to work nights and weekends.

GPs predicted the decision could lead to a hike in pay rates as trusts try to tempt reluctant doctors.

Mr Hutton recently announced an extra £30 million – or £100,000 each – for trusts to set up new services.

But one PCT that was

not planning to use GPs

said it would cost £350,000

a year to change its plans.

Mr Hutton said he expected trusts to improve service standards when they took over. He told a National Association of GP Co-operatives conference he 'would not

hestitate' to amend national standards.

'What is absolutely essential is that we ensure whenever a patient needs to see a GP out-of-hours they can do so within a safe period of time,' Mr Hutton added.

Chris Town, chief executive of Greater Peterborough Primary Care Partnership, said it would now have to rethink its model. It had proposed using nurses and paramedics to cover the midnight to 8am shift, with a GP available for phone advice and support to nurses.

'All my GPs have told me they are not prepared to work that shift so I have a problem. It would cost £900 a night to pay them – £350,000 a year,' said Mr Town, who was a member of the NHS Confederation's contract negotiating team.

lComment, page 24

By Nerys Hairon

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