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Hunt will take steps to improve GP out-of-hours care 'in the next few months'

Jeremy Hunt has pledged to improve the quality of GP out-of-hours services within ‘the next few months’, after a week of rhetoric blaming the poor provision of primary care for A&E pressures.

Speaking to Pulse, the health secretary acknowledged there was ‘some good out-of-hours care’, but said that the system was currently ‘disjointed’. He refused to say whether NHS England medical director Sir Bruce Keogh’s ongoing review of urgent and emergency care might result in GPs being asked to resume responsibilty for out-of=hours provision, but did not rule it out.

Asked whether there would be changes to the GP contract to hand out-of-hours responsibility back to the profession, Mr Hunt said: ‘Well I have put the issue on the table, because I think we do have an issue with the quality of out-of-hours care and I think that the changes in the GP contract were one of the main reasons why we had that. I don’t think that was the only reason that we have problems in many A&E departments but I do think it is one of them. But I haven’t said how we are going to address it because there is a lot of work that we need to do over the coming months to work out the best way of addressing this.’

‘But the point we have to get to at the end is where the public have confidence in out-of-hours care. There is some good out-of-hours care, don’t get me wrong, but the system can be very disjointed. You can feel that your GP might know about you, but [if] you contact someone out of hours they might know nothing about you and then there’s the option of A&E and 111 and we need to find a way of making sure that we have a more joined-up system which gives people confidence so that they don’t feel they have to go to A&E, which is very often not the best place to go.’

When put on the spot on whether this would require GPs to take back out-of-hours responsibility, he added: ‘Well I know you are trying to draw me, but let me… It might mean lots of things, but the point I really want to make is that we need to improve out-of-hours care as one of the key things and this is something that we will be applying ourselves to in the next few months.’

Sir Bruce Keogh’s review, which has looked at out-of-hours provision as part of its remit, is due to report next month.

Over the past week, health ministers have made several statements blaming poor primary care provision and the 2004 GP contract for a rise in A&E attendance. However GP leaders have rubbished claims and warned against treating GPs as scapegoats.

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Readers' comments (9)

  • The direction of travel is clear . Mr Hunt is trailing the return of 24 hour responsibility to GP's and refining his "formal launch strategy" from the screams that go up from his testers.
    The "New Contract" does include the provision for HMG to do this after a period of notice,and let us not forget did not let some GP's opt out at implementation " where no viable alternative exists" .

    I would like to remind that when the old wise heads questioned the sincerity of the then government, and advised it was impossible to manage the OOH pressure with the allocation in the proposed contract the ministerial reply was:-
    " this is manageble and sustainable from the planned resource : Any future return of 24 hour reponsibility would be a sign of abject failure of the political management of the NHS."
    One down one to go perhaps?

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  • I agree that's the way Mr Hunt is trying to head. I don't know of any GP that will stay in the job if he does force 24hour care back to us, unless it is funded sufficiently enough (which it will not) to employ adequate number of GPs/admin staff to staff OOH.

    Mind you, I think he is looking to remove GPs from primary care, so no surprise there

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  • Without GPs, primary care then secondary care would collapse, followed swiftly by the downfall of the government.

    Can they be really be that stupid ?

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  • Yes they can!

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  • We just need gp's to be responsible for the quality of the service, not 24 hr cover providers. We need the doctors working at out of hours to be involved with education and peer review at a local level. This is why co-ops have worked well as the doctors have their professional standing to care about. A locum doing a night shift living in a different part of the country does not have this concern.
    I would like to know who is looking after my palliative care patients over the weekend.
    If we are going to self regulate as a profession then let's do it .

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  • Im sure Mr Hunt has no understanding of the reasons why so many GPs opted out of providing OOH care and the barriers that were put in place against those GPs who tried to continue. He will also not know how many GPs stayed on in the profession because they could now provide better quality In Hours care for patients knowing that a nights sleep was forthcoming. He clearly cannot see that even the suggestion of making GPs responsible for the provision of OOH care even if they are not delivering, it will encourage more early retirements , more emigration to warmer climes with a better life. Its a pity these politicians dont read about the events leading to today before speaking about tomorrow. Once again showing no real understanding of the present situation whilst making plans for the future.
    As a matter of interest, how many GPs have actually signed a contract with the NHS, as a real contract cannot be changed in law without the agreement of both parties. Is is a contract at all?

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  • Surely the agenda is to hand back responsibility for OOH
    care back to GPs. Many will subcontract it out to an OOH
    provider for a cost say of £15000 to £20000 per annum .
    Result net pay of GPs reduced to £75000 or so which is the Governments intention .

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  • combination of greedy, tired , about to expire but still keen to 'work' GP partners always looking to milch 'salaried partners' and weird govt planning has led to this

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  • I agree fully with a comment already in place,that states ,every contract is two sided and both parties have to agree before in can be enforced!
    Our GPC in 2004,had very bold & highly talented negotiators,who made a compelling case for GP Opt out and won it for us! I suppose no sane GP would ever consider to be a part of that 24 hour commitment!!

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