Christmas crisis looms at hospital

A SHORTAGE of doctors willing to work shifts over the Christmas period could pose a real problem for a new out-of-hours GP service, health officials warned today.

A SHORTAGE of doctors willing to work shifts over the Christmas period could pose a real problem for a new out-of-hours GP service, health officials warned today.

From October 1, a change to GPs contracts will mean they are no longer obliged to work out-of-hours.

Instead, an emergency service will be provided by Suffolk Doctors on Call.

But extra bank holidays and an extended festive period mean it may be difficult to find doctors in Suffolk who are willing to work.

James Murphy, head of service development at Ipswich PCT, said: "Christmas presents a potential risk.

"Because of the way Christmas falls it means that about seven out of ten days are bank holidays."

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"Planning for this period is currently underway and Ipswich PCT are working with other trusts throughout Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire to adopt a co-ordinated approach.

Mr Murphy said: "We are looking to get provision right across the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire area so that everyone is working together."

With just weeks to go until the new service begins Mr Murphy said arrangements are progressing well: "It is all going according to plan and we have a service that is ready to begin on October 1.

"What we want to do now is get the message out to the public so that they know exactly what it means to them."

A publicity campaign is underway and thousands of leaflets detailing the changes have been placed in surgeries across the county.

Posters explaining the system will also be put up in surgeries, libraries, leisure centres and other public places so that people know what is going on.

Mr Murphy said: "What we did not want to do is make a sudden change and we want to be clear that there is very little difference for patients.

"The main change will be that surgeries will be closed on Saturday mornings, and this means that people who need repeat prescriptions will need to plan ahead because they won't be able to pick them up then."

He said trials of the scheme had already been carried out in some parts of Ipswich and had received an "excellent response."

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