NHS managers are having to redraw targets for out-of-hours providers because up to a quarter of calls to out-of-hours services are from patients demanding repeat prescriptions for current medications.
GPs have described the figures – from an analysis of calls made on Saturdays and Bank Holidays – as ‘crazy’ and a demonstration of the increasing pressure on out-of-hours providers to keep up with patient demand.
According to call logs from Mastercall Healthcare – an out-of-hours provider that covers 700,000 patients in Stockport and Trafford – last year an average of 10-15% of calls during Saturday morning were regarding repeat prescriptions.
This reached a peak on the bank holiday for the Royal wedding last year, with 25% of calls at 9am in the morning for repeat prescriptions.
GPs running the service said the calls were mostly for drugs that should be issued by GP practices – such as asthma inhalers and the contraceptive pill – and that they had had to negotiate an opt-out on their targets for those calls.
Dr John O’Malley, a GP in the Wirral and medical director of Mastercall Healthcare, said: ‘It is crazy. It isn’t a simple matter of speaking to a call handler. That repeat prescription request then has to go into a list for a doctor to talk to somebody and then they may not be happy about not seeing the patient face to face.
‘It is a difficult situation, and until recently it was included in our targets and we have now agreed with the PCT it is a separate thing and people are now being made to wait six to eight hours for a repeat prescription.’
Dr O’Malley said there needed to be a ‘mature conversation’ with patient about the out-of-hours service is for.