A private out-of-hours provider recently warned by the Care Quality Commission over the standards of its service has been told it must have a minimum of three GPs per shift after concerns were raised about a shortage of staff.
Serco, which runs the out-of-hours service for NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, also faces the possibility of having its contract altered to stipulate a minimum number of staff per shift, after GP commissioners raised concerns about the service.
The firm was served with a warning notice by the CQC in July after the regulator ruled that the service in Cornwall had failed to meet essential health and safety standards, including not having enough GPs on call.
Concerns were voiced after it emerged that just one GP covered more than 500,000 people on 29 May after another GP had been taken ill.
The new staffing stipulation was made after the PCT held two clinical meetings – chaired by a GP leader from Kernow CCG – following the night of 29 May.
Bridget Sampson, director of primary care for NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, told Pulse the incident had caused it to make an agreement with Serco specifying they must have a minimum of three GPs on shift at any time, and provide the trust with shift rotas in advance as part of the additional assurance.
She said: ‘At the moment, this is a voluntary undertaking by Serco, but one that we may seek to formalise and embed in its current contract in due course.
‘Any failure to meet contractual obligations can result in it being served with a remedial notice, but we are assured that there is a clear commitment from Serco to rectify the recent problems and we are supporting them in doing so.’
A spokesperson for Serco said: ‘There have been at least two GPs on call every night since June 2011, with the one exception of 29 May when unfortunately there was only one on call due to illness. We have increased the pool of GPs and we are confident we are now well resourced to meet the needs of the service and our track record clearly demonstrates this.’
Dr Peter Merrin, chair of Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LMC, said the recommendations were ‘sensible’. He said: ‘It is encouraging that both the recent CQC evaluation and an independent local report have acknowledged these issues and made sensible recommendations. It is particularly pleasing that Serco has taken steps to resolve some of the shortcomings regarding staffing of the service.’