Commercial out-of-hours companies may provide poorer care compared to not-for-profit providers, a major analysis has suggested.
The BMJ study of 80,000 patient survey responses, which researchers said was the first of its kind, found that ratings for overall experience, timeliness and the level of confidence and trust in the doctor or nurse were on average 3% lower for commercial providers compared with not-for-profit services.
The researchers said that in 2013/14 there were 5.8m GP out-of-hours contacts, costing around £400m.
Of these, social enterprise models – including GP-led not-for-profit services – were thought to account for 56.1%, GP practice providers for 2.4%, commercial services for 22.6% and other NHS-run services for 20.2%.
However, lead researcher Professor John Campbell, professor of general practice and primary care at the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, said the results should be interpreted with caution, noting that the best-rated commercially run out-of-hours providers scored better than many not-for-profit or NHS organisations.
He added: ‘This is a large-scale and robust study, and yields interesting results that warrant further investigation and understanding… There are variations and examples of good practice among all providers but the overall trend is that patients report less positive experiences with commercial providers and we now need to understand why this is the case.’
The news comes as a study published last week suggested opening up general practice provision to private companies via APMS contracts may have worsened patient care.