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.