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Out-of-hours cash row

NHS 24 dominated the debates at the Scottish LMCs conference last week with 13 separate motions ­ Rob Finch reports

NHS 24 has been a disastrous waste of money and is only staying alive because GPs are filling in the huge gaps in its performance, GPs in Scotland have claimed.

In by far the most heated debate of the annual Scottish LMCs conference, GPs heaped criticism on NHS 24, with 13 motions criticising its failures.

GPs were unanimous in demanding the nurse-led help-line be split into regional centres to solve a recruitment crisis that has left patients waiting longer than 12 hours for nurses to call them back.

Other motions argued patient safety was at risk and that terminally-ill patients were disadvantaged.

Opening the debate, Dr Huntly McCallum, vice-chair of Ayrshire and Arran LMC, condemned the 'Teflon management culture' of NHS 24.

'My number one beef is that they spent a shed-load on this and it's really not delivering for the amount spent,' he said.

'I feel NHS 24 should be the servant of the localities, not their master.'

Dr Dean Marshall, secretary of Lothian LMC, said NHS 24's system, not its staff, were to blame for its problems.

He said: 'We're hoping they devolve things down to local areas with the devolution funding as well. That way we're certain we would improve things for patients.'

Dr Douglas Colville of Glasgow LMC added: 'NHS 24 is terminally ill. It's got to the stage where it's moribund ­ it's kept alive by palliative care by us ­ we're its syringe driver.'

Owen Clarke, chair of the Scottish Executive's NHS 24 review team, and NHS 24's medical director Dr Brian Robson both attended the conference to hear GPs' concerns.

Speaking afterwards, Dr Robson said he recognised there had been problems with performance, which the organisation 'regretted'.

He added: 'A major programme of work is now under way within NHS 24 to bring about service improvements in partnership with local NHS boards.'

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