Concerns over out-of-hours GP service in Suffolk

SAFETY concerns have been raised over Suffolk's out-of-hours GP service in an official report released today.

Anthony Bond

SAFETY concerns have been raised over Suffolk's out-of-hours GP service in an official report released today.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) report found a number of areas of concern about the way private firm Take Care Now, which provides the out-of-hours service for Suffolk and four other counties, is run.

Fears were also raised that primary care trusts (PCTs) such as NHS Suffolk were only “scratching the surface” in monitoring out-of-hours performance and risk failing to spot potential problems or poor care.

The report follows the death in February last year of 70-year-old David Gray, who was accidentally killed by a German doctor working his first out-of-hours shift in Britain. Dr Daniel Ubani was employed by Take Care Now and was working for a Cambridgeshire health trust at the time.

The report criticised Take Care Now for failing to fill doctors' shifts and its policies for dispensing medicine.

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Cynthia Bower, CQC's chief executive, said: “We observed that Take Care Now at times has difficulty in filling shifts, particularly for doctors. This puts pressure on other staff and could affect the quality of the service.

“Take Care Now needs to complete its work on its policy for managing medicines, as it includes some information that is currently too generic or not appropriate for out of hours.”

The report said that the monitoring of Take Care Now by the five PCTs varied, leading the CQC to believe that the PCTs should scrutinise the out-of-hours service more closely.

In particular, the PCTs were told to look at the efficiency of call handling and triage, the number of unfilled shifts, the proportion of shifts covered by non-local doctors, the induction and training those doctors receive and the quality of the decisions made by clinical staff.

Cynthia Bower, CQC's chief executive, said: “GP out-of-hours services provide vital care to people outside of normal surgery hours.

“As commissioners of these services, PCTs need to ensure people receive safe, quality care around the clock.

“Our visits to the five trusts that commission Take Care Now's services showed they are only scratching the surface in terms of how they are routinely monitoring the quality of out-of-hours services.

“If their monitoring is not robust enough, they may not be in a position to spot early indications of potential problems or poor care.”

Sue Hayter, director of patient safety at NHS Suffolk, said: “We welcome the interim statement from the Care Quality Commission on the out of hours' service.

“We have taken steps to scrutinise the provision and monitoring of the service - with particular emphasis on the safety and quality of service that patients in the NHS Suffolk area receive.”

NHS Cambridgeshire and NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney were two of the other PCTs who contract work out to Take Care Now.

David Cocks, chief executive of Take Care Now, said: “We welcome the CQC's interim progress report and are continuing to work with the CQC in its ongoing investigation.”

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