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Scrutinise your local out-of-hours service

GPs should keep a careful eye on their local out-of-hours provider, by following up all complaints and scrutinising benchmark performance data, argues Dr David Carson

GPs should keep a careful eye on their local out-of-hours provider, by following up all complaints and scrutinising benchmark performance data, argues Dr David Carson

As a GP your local out-of-hours service has a considerable impact on your patients, your practice and other parts of the system, such as A&E. National benchmarking has shown a general improvement, but performance is still patchy.

So how can you tell if your own out-of-hours service is performing well? Here are some tips.

You will be seeing patients who have received care from your local service. You should assess the standard of clinical care patients have received and their own comments on their experiences.

If you have concerns about a particular case, ask the provider to investigate if it was dealt with appropriately – this is a non-confrontational approach that will give you a good indication of their openness and willingness to improve.

You should expect a competent provider to treat such a request with the same thoroughness as a formal complaint. Good signs are that the response is reasonably quick and detailed, with the provider listening to the recording of the conversation, looking at notes and perhaps speaking to the clinician concerned.

If the reply is superficial or slow, consider a formal complaint. Alternatively, as providers are required to keep recordings of phone calls and full clinical notes, ask for the details yourself. If obvious warning signs have been missed or the action or referral was inappropriate, ask the provider and PCT to investigate through their clinical audit process.

For information on how the provider is performing against national standards approach your PCT. The Primary Care Foundation has developed a national benchmark covering compliance with national standards, cost, efficiency and governance. All PCTs should have the local performance reports, some of which are now published online.

Dr David Carson is director of the Primary Care Foundation

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