Costly new doctor service

A NEW GP out of hours service is set to cost Suffolk's debt-ridden health trusts nearly £3million a year because there is not enough money at Government level to cover the ambitious initiative, it has been revealed.

A NEW GP out of hours service is set to cost Suffolk's debt-ridden health trusts nearly £3million a year because there is not enough money at Government level to cover the ambitious initiative, it has been revealed.

Central Government was supposed to fund the out of hours care, which could see doctors getting paid up to £100 an hour to be called out, but it has now been found that there is not enough money and Primary Care Trusts will have to make up the shortfall.

And according to a report for Ipswich Primary Care Trust, it is anticipated that all GP practices in Ipswich will opt out of providing the care, but that a proportion of GP's will provide services by working for Suffolk Doctors on Call.

Under the new General Medical Services (GMS) contract, voted in by doctors last year, doctors can now choose whether they work out of hours and the responsibility for the service is due to transfer to Primary Care Trusts instead of the doctors themselves by October.

This however means that they look likely to get paid far more than under the former co-operative system where doctors were given £200,000 a year and worked out the rates between themselves.

The PCT report written by James Murphy, head of service development for the PCT states that there will have to be an increase in pay to encourage doctors to work now that the compulsion has been removed.

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Dr Gareth Richards, Suffolk branch president of the British Medical Association said that whereas before doctors were only getting paid £1per head of population to do the job, it is possible they could now be getting paid up to £15 per head instead, which in turn could equate to £100 an hour.

Although it seems like a huge hike, Dr Richards claims this is actually a fair sum for the work they do and the skills they have and that before they were drastically underpaid.

He said: "Try getting a solicitor out of bed in the middle of the night for not much money.

"The PCT's have no choice but to pay it as they are under obligation to provide an out of hours service.

"The only way you can reduce those costs is to say we don't need a GP and get someone cheaper.

"But there are advantages to using GP as they are extremely skilled people with a wide range of expertise."

Dr Richards said that the PCT's would choose the most cost effective option but it needed to be good to avoid people just turning up to accident and emergency departments.

He said: "If you don't have a good option people will just pitch up at A&E which ends up being more expensive.

"If people turn up to A+E that is more like £200 a night."

The total available funds for the Out of Hours service is £1,953,000 but the actual cost is £4,717,692 leaving a shortfall of £2,764,692.

Just last week it was revealed that Suffolk's PCT's were £11million in the red.

According to Mr Murphy's report the money will have to be drawn from GMS funding which will put pressure in the development of other areas within the contract.

The new scheme will come into play by October and at the moment it is hoped that teams of people including paramedics and nurses as well as GP's will be involved to provide out of hours care.

But Jan Rowsell spokeswoman for the Primary Care Trust said that care would not be compromised.

She said: "The new GMS contract has really been designed to recognise the huge range of care and the vital role that GP's play.

"All the PCT's are working in partnership with GP's in Suffolk and Suffolk Doctors on Call to make sure that the excellent care which is currently available continues so there is a seamless service.

"It was always anticipated that many GP's would opt out but we are really fortunate in East Suffolk to have an excellent out of hours service."

A new Saturday morning service is currently being piloted where nurse practitioners and paramedics are also providing health care as well as GP's.

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