Fears raised over out of hours care

OUT of hours medical care in Suffolk is under scrutiny today after the service on offer was strongly criticised.

OUT of hours medical care in Suffolk is under scrutiny today after the service on offer was strongly criticised.

Councillors voiced fears about the quality of medical and dental care provided during the evenings and weekend at the Suffolk Health Scrutiny Committee meeting on Monday.

The worries came after it emerged earlier this year that out of hours care provided in Suffolk by private company Take Care Now (TCN) is being investigated by health watchdogs.

The investigation was launched after a German doctor working for TCN's out of hours set up in Cambridgeshire gave a patient a fatal dose of diamorphine.

At Monday's meeting councillor Peter Collecott said: “I have some very serious concerns about out of hours care.

“One of the comments I've heard is that a number of the doctors are foreign doctors and speak very poor English.

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“I've also had complaints where the patient has phoned the line and there has actually been no one there and they can't get through.

“We've had complaints about waiting times. Another is that out of hours doctors do not have access to patient records.

“The majority of people are telling me it is an atrocious service.”

Meanwhile councillor Elizabeth Gibson-Harries warned: “If the service is struggling now what is it going to be like if we get a serious outbreak of swine flu?”

The committee was due to scrutinise in detail the out of hours care on offer in Suffolk and NHS Suffolk's recent consultation into how to improve the service, which is due to have its contract re-negotiated soon.

Patient representative Anne Nicholls of the interim Suffolk Local Involvement Network (LINk) said patients generally reported positively about their experience of out of hours care, but there were a few areas of concern.

These included the length of time waiting for care, not being visited at home, and worries about communication.

The scrutiny committee did not make any recommendations to NHS Suffolk over out of hours care and decided to look at the issue again at its next meeting after Monday's session ran on longer than planned.

Have you had problems with out of hours care - or been impressed by it? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.