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GPs should take back out-of-hours responsibility, says health secretary

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has given his clearest indication yet that he expects GPs to take back responsibility for running out-of-hours services.

Speaking on the BBC’s Politics Show yesterday, Mr Hunt said: ‘I think we need to go back to GPs having responsibility for making sure that for the people on their list there is a good service available.

‘I think the reforms we’ve had in the health service help to make that happen but there’s a lot more we need to do.’

Mr Hunt said he would ‘never blame GPs’ who he said ‘work extremely hard’ and that he would not expect them to provide the services themselves.

‘I don’t want to go back to the days of GPs personally being on call at two o’clock on a Saturday morning,’ he said.

But he reiterated that he believes contract changes in 2004 to allow GPs to opt out of running out-of-hours services have caused problems.

‘I do think that contract is to blame yes – when you removed the responsibility for running those services in the evenings and weekends the service deteriorated and there was a great loss of public confidence.’

He added: ‘If you need to speak to a GP out of hours you will generally get someone a very long way from you who doesn’t know you, can’t see your medical notes.’

Dr Agnelo Fernandes, the RCGP’s urgent care lead who sits on NHS England’s Emergency Care Review, told Pulse last week that Mr Hunt was wrong to blame GPs for the crisis in A&E departments, as attendance figures remained flat over the decade since the new contract.

The latest NHS England figures show that while A&E performance ‘deteriorated significantly’ in the last quarter of 2012/13, attendance figures were 1.7% lower year-on-year.

On the back of the figures, GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey has called for Mr Hunt to apologise. On the social networking site Twitter, Dr Vautrey said: ‘Clear facts about A&E figures. Time for a Government apology to GPs.’

Dr Steve Kell, co-chair of NHS Clinical Commissioners’ Leadership Group and chair of Bassetlaw CCG, said that he had growing concerns about the media ‘firestorm’ was affecting the implementation of the Goverment’s NHS reforms.

He said: ‘There is little doubt that a fire-storm has being whipped up over what is happening in A&E departments, with primary care provision, the GP contract and out-of-hours care being dragged into the mix.

‘NHS Clinical Commissioners role is to speak for local commissioners, but as membership organisations we recognise that the morale of GPs is fundamental to how CCGs can operate.

‘After all, if GPs are feeling squashed by their workload they are going to be far less able and willing to then engage on top of that with the commissioning agenda. CCGs need the foundations of strong general practice upon which to build.’