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OOH GPs responsible for up to 300,000 patients each

By Gareth Iacobucci

Out-of-hours GPs in one of England’s biggest counties are being stretched to the limit and are sometimes responsible for up to 300,000 patients each when on call, it has emerged.

Private provider Take Care Now (TCN) – which runs OOH services for 600,000 people in Suffolk – has revealed that there are typically just three GPS on call in the county, a figure which has fallen as low as two during periods of staff sickness.

The company, currently under scrutiny over the death of a patient given a fatal overdose by a locum GP in neighboring Cambridgeshire, said it typically had three GPs and a nurse on call during its 12am to 8am shift in Suffolk.

However, it admitted that this sometimes dropped to two due to sickness, adding that in some cases: ‘one of the three doctor shifts is filled by a nurse practitioner who can prescribe’.

A spokesman for Take Care Now said there was an average of around 50 calls during the 12-8 time period, with ‘the majority dealt with on the telephone by the GPs’.

The spokesman added: ‘Over the past 12 months, TCN has been 100% compliant with Emergency calls, 96.71% compliant with urgent calls and 99.52% compliant with routine calls. TCN’s performance is monitored by the commissioner (NHS Suffolk) which reviews figures for the performance of the out-of-hours service every month.’

The company will shortly be relinquishing control of out-of-hours care in Suffolk, after the PCT awarded the re-tendered contract to Harmoni.

But Geoff Reason, chief executive of Suffolk LMC, said that the change of provider would not alter the lack of resources available to cover out-of-hours shifts.

‘We feel that out-of-hours services is not funded at a level which guarantees good quality coverage, and that any provider is likely to face problems in delivering a full services at that cost,’ he said.

‘We don’t think the specification allows the development of a level of service that the LMC would like to see, particularly in relation to geographical coverage, and the distance that people have to travel.’

out-of-hours: stretched to the limit out-of-hours: stretched to the limit